By Don Nelson
Candidates for the commission that would oversee a proposed Methow Valley Recreation District had a chance to make personal impressions on the voters during a public forum last week at the Twisp Valley Grange.
Ten of the 13 candidates for five at-large positions on the commission attended the forum, which was sponsored by the grange and the Twisp and Winthrop chambers of commerce. Two candidates — Julie Muyllaert and Kristin Devin — were out of town, but Muyllaert had provided written responses to a set of questions that were prepared for all the candidates. Mike Fort chose not to participate.
The grange hall was packed for the candidates’ appearance. While audience members were not allowed to ask questions directly or engage in discussions with the candidates, there were many small “sidebar” conversations before and after the forum, and during a brief intermission.
The proposed recreation district would have the same boundaries as the Methow Valley School District. It would raise money for recreation projects and programs through a property tax. The commission will only be formed if the recreation district proposal is approved at the April 22 election. Ballots were to be mailed this week.
At the forum, moderator Peter Morgan asked all the candidates to answer prepared questions about why they were running for the board. The candidates were then posed a series of questions submitted in writing by members of the audience. Following are summaries of the candidates’ responses.
For extended responses to questions posed by the Methow Valley News, see On the record: Recreation district commission candidates have their say.
Don Fitzpatrick, Position 1
Fitzpatrick said he initially thought the proposed recreation district could be beneficial to the valley. But after learning more about it, he decided the proposed structure is “the wrong vehicle” because it would create another layer of government, impose additional taxes and possibly put the recreation district in competition with other local jurisdictions that will be seeking voter approval of levies and bond issues. Fitzpatrick said the district might also run into conflict with county recreation programs.
Julie Palm, Position 1
Palm, one of five candidates endorsed by Friends of the Recreation District (FORD), said she sees many benefits for the community in a new recreation district because it could create new opportunities and help bring more tourism and tax revenues into the valley. Palm said that RCW 35.61, the state law under which the district would be formed, is the best approach because it would allow district residents to keep local control over programs and expenditures. Like other FORD-endorsed candidates, Palm said she would not support the use of eminent domain and would work to keep the district’s tax levy — which would have an upper limit of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation — as low as possible.
Kevin van Bueren, Position 2
Van Bueren, who is endorsed by FORD, said he has been professionally and personally involved in the valley’s recreational scene for years, and believes the time is right to develop sustainable funding for improved recreation facilities that would be beneficial to residents and tourists alike. If elected, van Bueren said his immediate goals would be to maintain or improve existing facilities and to make sure there is substantial community involvement in the district’s decision-making process.
Christine Holm, Position 2
Holm said she opposes RCW 35.61 and is running to be “the voice of caution and minimalism” if the district is formed and she is elected, and to make sure that all points of view are represented. “It [the district] is not a bad concept, but the devil is in the details,” she said. The valley’s other priorities, such as schools, fire protection and social services, should be considered ahead of the recreation district, she said.
Camden Shaw, Position 3
Shaw, another FORD-endorsed candidate, said he wants to see more diverse recreational opportunities for everyone in the valley by creating something “new and sustainable.” He said that if the district is formed, it will be important for the commission to listen to the community to determine needs and priorities. Shaw said the district also could help increase economic activity in the valley.
Brent Walker, Position 3
Walker said it’s important for valley residents to know what they are voting for, such as the power of eminent domain, higher taxes, maintenance and ownership costs, and encouraged residents to do their homework on RCW 35.61. Although he agrees that there are obvious recreational needs, he doesn’t think RCW 35.61 is the right way to go about meeting them.
Steven Stacy, Position 3
Stacy said he has been and will continue to be heavily involved in local recreational activities as a volunteer, but doesn’t like RCW 35.61. If the district is formed and he is elected, Stacy said, he would favor a “conservative approach” to determining needs and creating an operating structure. As proposed under RCW 35.61, he said, the district would have too much power over taxation and eminent domain, and would compete for tax dollars with other jurisdictions.
Bart Bradshaw, Position 4
Bradshaw said he is opposed to RCW 35.61 but ran for the commission because, as a certified public accountant and former Methow Valley School Board member, he could be a “financial watchdog” and lend administrative experience to the new group. Bradshaw said the recreation district proposal offers “some good ideas,” but added that the current proposal is the wrong way to go about it and would impose “a forever tax.”
Kristin Devin, Position 4
Devin, who is endorsed by FORD, was out of town.
Julie Muyllaert, Position 5
Muyllaert, a FORD-endorsed candidate, said in a written statement that she believes the proposed recreation district would help expand opportunities for all valley residents and would benefit the local economy. She said she supports a fiscally prudent budget and would be opposed to the use of eminent domain. Muyllaert believes RCW 35.61 is the best option because it ensures that locally generated funds would be spent locally with local accountability.
John Northcott, Position 5
Northcott said he supports the idea of a recreation district but the proposed structure is wrong, and that he doesn’t want to see people shoulder additional taxes. He pointed out that the valley already offers lots of recreational opportunities, many of them free. If the valley decides to focus on certain project such as a bike trail between Twisp and Winthrop, they should be done on a project-by-project basis, he said.
Paula Stokes, Position 5
Stokes, who pointed to a long history of community involvement, said RCW 35.61 is “invasive” and a different structure is needed to address the needs of facilities such as the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink. She said she is also worried about a recreation district competing with other local jurisdictions for taxpayer dollars, and added that the valley already has a variety of recreational opportunities and doesn’t need to find another way to generate them.
For more of our in-depth coverage on the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District, see this week’s (April 2) related stories, editorials and letters: On the record: Recreation district commission candidates have their say, FAQ: Rec district, Editorials, My turn: Pro, My turn: Con, Letters to the Editor, and the somewhat related: County commissioners reorganize county fair and recreation boards