By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners are planning to reorganize the way the county handles the county fair, recreation, and capital projects such as building renovations, trailheads and parks.
The commissioners met Thursday (March 27) with the county’s parks and recreation board to get their OK to dismantle the board and reconstitute it as a body responsible only for running the county fair. Although called the parks and recreation board, the seven-member group has essentially focused only on the fair and fairgrounds for years, according to the commissioners.
As part of the reorganization, the commissioners plan to reestablish the parks and recreation board to focus on countywide recreation.
The restructuring will also entail a review of the county’s capital facilities plan, which sets out projects and budgets for everything from upgrades of county buildings and sewer systems to the development of new trails. The commissioners said that examining how the county handles and funds recreation made them realize that they are out of compliance in their annual update of the facilities plan, which is required by state law. The six-year plan was adopted in 2012.
Although the restructuring may affect the county’s approach to facilities beyond those connected with recreation, the changes grew out of a discussion with Methow Valley residents opposed to the creation of a special recreational district in the Methow Valley, according to the commissioners.
Don Fitzpatrick, a candidate for commissioner of the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District, and Ron Perrow, a local citizen also opposed to the district, met with the county commissioners on March 17 to ask about ways to support recreation that would be an alternative to a junior taxing district, said County Commissioner Jim DeTro at last week’s meeting.
Perrow said he approached the commissioners because he saw little action on the priorities set out in the county’s recreation plan. The recreation plan was approved in 2012 and includes a prioritized list of projects throughout the county and recommends the appointment of an outdoor recreation coordinator.
After talking with Perrow and Fitzpatrick, the commissioners realized that, with the existing parks and rec board focused only on the fair, they were not addressing recreation needs throughout the county, said County Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy.
When restructured, “the parks and recreation board will become an umbrella for all the recreation facilities in the county,” said DeTro. The county can also partner with cities and towns on recreational projects, said Kennedy.
The commissioners plan to reorganize the fair board under a separate state law devoted to agricultural fairs and poultry shows. That law provides for hiring people or designating a nonprofit corporation to manage a fair.
The commissioners anticipate dismissing the members of the existing parks and rec board and then having them reapply for appointment to the new body that would run the fair. Rec board members attending last week’s meeting appeared to be comfortable with the arrangement.
The commissioners will then redefine the existing parks and recreation board and appoint new members. The commissioners are still working out the details of how all these groups will be defined and constituted.
The county has already budgeted for a part-time fairgrounds manager to handle the upkeep of the grounds and rentals of the Agri-Plex. The recruitment process will resume after the various boards have been revamped.
Managing rec projects
The commissioners said that county expenditures on recreation should be included in the capital facilities plan, which helps allocate funds. The plan includes an inventory of all county facilities, staffing and maintenance needs, as well as proposals for new projects. It can use various financing sources, including the general fund, real estate excise tax, bonds and grants.
Among the projects identified in the county’s recreation plan are a trail connecting the school campus with Winthrop and Twisp, more Sno-Parks for snowmobile access to Chewuch trails, and continued support for the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink.
Although organizations cite the rec plan when they apply for grants, in recent years it has served little purpose beyond that, according to the commissioners. Kennedy said she didn’t even know the county had a recreation plan.
The county’s reorganization of its parks and recreation board is independent of the proposed recreation district in the Methow Valley, which is on the ballot for April 22.
“I’d like to be very clear that we’re cleaning up what has been commingled for a long time,” said DeTro. He said no one knows how the parks and rec board came to focus solely on the fair and fairgrounds.
The commissioners will solicit project proposals in the near future for inclusion in the capital facilities plan, which should include a budget and anticipated funding sources. Projects can include those focused on recreation. They aim to present a draft to the county planning commission in June to be on schedule for adopting this year’s update by July, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.
For in-depth coverage on the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District, see this week’s (April 2) related stories, editorials and letters: Candidates’ forum draws packed house, On the record: Recreation district commission candidates have their say, FAQ: Rec district, Editorials, My turn: Pro, My turn: Con, Letters to the Editor