By Ann McCreary
A special election ballot to be mailed on April 3 will give voters residing within the Methow Valley School District boundaries an opportunity to approve or reject creation of a new Methow Valley Recreation District.
Voters will also be able to choose five district commissioners, elected at-large from within the district boundaries, to govern the district.
Thirteen candidates running for the five district commission positions were invited to respond to questions provided by the Methow Valley News. One candidate, Mike Fort, chose not to respond.
Candidates were asked:
1. Why are you running for the recreation district commission?
2. What do you see as the benefits or drawbacks of a new recreation district?
3. If the district is approved by voters, what are your priorities as a commissioner?
4. If the district is turned down by voters, would you support creating a district under a different RCW (statute) or by another means?
Candidates’ responses are below; they are listed alphabetically by position. Some may have been edited for length.
• I am running because I am not in favor of creating the district, and, if it should be created, would like to be involved to make sure that it is managed effectively, accomplishes something, and does not conflict with the considerable current efforts being made by Okanogan County.
• I see several drawbacks to a new recreation district: more cost to taxpayers; another layer of government; potential conflict with Okanogan County, the county commissioners, the County Parks and Recreation Board, the County Recreation Plan, the Economic Alliance Committee, the Tourism Board, and the Capital Facilities Plan; I don’t know how it would affect the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, but it might jeopardize their 29-year agreement with the county and/or the approximately $100,000 in funding they receive each year; the threat and costs associated with the right of condemnation by eminent domain; and potential additional debt created with or without voter approval that will be difficult for the Methow Valley to service and repay.
• If the district is created, and if I am elected as a commissioner, my priorities would be planning and developing criteria that everyone could easily understand; coordination with existing county efforts; preventing conflicts with existing efforts by the county; minimizing cost; and emphasizing programs that are self-sustaining. Many more things need to be done to make a recreation district work that are far too numerous to mention here.
• I am undecided on whether a district needs to be created at all, under a different RCW or any other means. I’m not sure I see the long-term value of it now that I have learned about all the effort that Okanogan County has made to promote recreation, not only in the entire county, but specifically in the Methow Valley. However, I will remain open to discussing other options in the future.
• I am running because I see the recreation district as creating many opportunities for the Methow Valley. I feel my experience growing up, recreating and operating a business in the valley gives me a unique perspective. I grew up playing sports and continue as an adult to participate in recreation and my children participate in recreation currently. I am aware of the great programs we have and also what facilities and programs are needed. I am excited to be involved in the perspective of creating the recreation district, which includes developing a process to accept proposals and public involvement to improve current programs and facilities and create new recreational opportunities.
• The benefits of the recreation district are the ability to support existing recreation, create new recreation, and support more involvement by kids and adults who currently may not be able to participate. The recreation district is an economic benefit to the valley. Recreation can create low-impact ways to increase employment and business opportunities. The creation of the recreation district can free up donations and volunteers to benefit other entities in the valley such as the Methow Valley Community Center, Winthrop Barn, The Cove, Room One, etc.
• If elected, my priority as a commissioner is to develop the processes and resolutions for the recreation district, to create an application process, and to involve the public in the process of project selection. My own priorities for possible projects are existing facilities and programs such as the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp, the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, the Twisp Airport soccer and baseball fields, and AAU sports.
• Although not perfect, I fully support the Methow Valley Recreation District being created under RCW 35.61. The formation of the Methow Valley Metropolitan Park and Recreation District is a good system as it will keep the Methow Valley tax dollars exclusively within the Methow Valley School District boundaries. The five elected commissioners will accept proposals for new or existing programs and then decide if they are viable and fiscally responsible with the public’s input. I believe sound recreation decisions made by locals will benefit our community. I would not support the alternative RCW to create a recreation district, as the valley would lose local control. I cannot say if I would support another means of creating a recreation district.
• I am running for commissioner because I am against the proposal but, should my neighbors vote it into law, I want all voices from the valley heard. I would speak for those who had serious doubts and would want decisions that reflect all aspects of our valley, not just one block of people with a singular interest.
• Under RCW 35.61 I see few if any benefits and many drawbacks. The three-letter word t-a-x speaks for itself, but the broader implications of that word are that we are willing to add to the tax burden of property owners for the implementation of fun activities while ignoring the needs of families who struggle financially to feed and clothe their children. We ask The Cove, the Methow Valley Senior Center, the Methow Valley Community Center and Room One to all do their own individual fundraising when they meet the needs of people. Why can’t the ice rink, the pool, etc., do that also? They are indeed positive additions to our community, but we need to be fair. Put needs before wants.
• My primary goal would be to see that the activities funded are open and available to all my neighbors, that the tax amount remains minimal, and to ensure that the use of eminent domain, for example, does not embitter owners and pit neighbor against neighbor.
• There is already a format for that to happen in Okanogan County. It does essentially the same thing as RCW 35.61 without the tax, without eminent domain and without paid personnel. I’m not sure why the backers of RCW 35.61 chose to go the route they did with this other option available. Those of us who live here love the valley and want to see it prosper. We love the out-of-doors and want to protect it for future generations. We should have recognized by its title that RCW 35.61 does not fit our community, at least not now. RCW 35.61 is for the design of a Metropolitan Park District, designed primarily for large metropolitan areas. That’s not us.
Kevin van Bueren
• I am running for the position of Methow Valley Recreation District commissioner because I truly believe that the recreation facilities and opportunities in the Methow will benefit from a formal funding source. I have two decades of full-time experience in the recreation activities of the Methow Valley. I feel this experience will help me balance the demand of recreation projects and our community’s desire to support those projects responsibly.
• I see the district as a mechanism to help raise the funds for existing facilities and programs as well as some new opportunities supported by our community. Currently, there are facilities that depend heavily on financial support by a select few individuals yet provide valley-wide benefits. I feel a recreation district will help provide better facilities and more programs. In the long run, these facilities will draw more outside dollars through funding and tourism which will in turn provide better opportunities for Methow Valley residents.
• My first priority will be to listen to our community. This has already begun with great conversations from both supporters and skeptics. The top priorities I hear from many individuals and groups are support for the pool, ice rink and sports fields. I feel the pool and ice rink are great starting points for our community to work together with the new recreation district. These two facilities already draw huge numbers of resident families and individuals as well as tourists. Both facilities are in need of either equipment upgrade or facility changes that could increase their level of service. Personally, in the last two decades I have witnessed the youth sports fields in the Methow decrease in numbers and vacillate between improvement and neglect. I don’t feel the recreation district will be the financial answer to any one facility or project. I do believe the district will be able to provide part of local funds for an organization to obtain matching state grants. These are examples of what I hear from our community and examples that I support. There are many more. As commissioner it will be my task to operate as part of a team with other commissioners and our community to filter through requests and match resources with the valley’s needs.
• I am currently directing all of my energy towards the formation of the recreation district. No state law will be perfect for our situation here in the Methow. I trust that the residents of this valley have the ability to think outside the box, as has been shown, and make this recreation district work for our community. The Methow is created by many diverse groups of people, yet we all share the love for the valley. If the Methow wants something bad enough, I am confident our community will make it happen. I will always volunteer my time towards this land and its people. It’s what we love. It’s why we are here.
• I’m running for the position of recreation district commissioner to be involved first-hand in the planning of the district’s current and future recreation needs.
• The benefits of the recreation district would be: to provide economic security to maintain and improve existing facilities; to provide ample opportunities for our youth to play outside, encouraging healthy habits and learning valuable lessons about life; to diversify the recreational opportunities throughout the valley for adults and kids; to reduce the burden on municipalities for the maintenance of our facilities; to provide recreational opportunities at reduced charge for the residents of the valley; to provide scholarships for kids to play sports throughout the year; and to encourage families to play together outside, refreshing bonds and encouraging lifelong health.
• My priorities as a commissioner would be to create a system of communication for the voters to have their voices heard. Also, to ensure the efficiency of the application process wherein commissioners deliberate how to fund the community’s recreational needs. Another priority would be to determine how the recreation district could assist municipalities with their current maintenance needs of existing facilities. A local priority for me would be to assist the Town of Twisp in creating a multi-sport athletic field, with long-term intentions of holding athletic tournaments in the valley.
• I am in support of creating this district as it is now proposed. In my opinion, RCW 35.61 provides us with local control that other RCWs do not. It makes sense to me to keep our revenue here in the valley, and elect valley residents to be responsible for how that revenue is spent. If the voters do not approve RCW 35.61, I would consider supporting other options, though I am not aware of an option that provides this much local control.
• My decision to run is because I oppose creation of the recreation district under the proposed RCW 35.61statute and the commission powers the statute provides. If the recreation district should be created by a vote of the public, I would welcome the opportunity to help guide and manage the district conservatively without creating increased tax burden and exercising undesirable commission powers.
• I feel the drawbacks outweigh any foreseeable benefits of creating a new recreation district: an additional layer of government in conflict with current Okanogan County efforts for recreation in the Methow Valley; increased tax burden on all property owners within the proposed district with or without voter approval as provided in RCW 35.61; and the potential threat of eminent domain affecting property values and disrupting people’s lives.
• If the recreation district is approved as proposed and I’m elected to the position of commissioner my priorities would be: creating appropriate structure; additional public access to the commission; keeping costs to a conservative minimum; long-term planning; working with Okanogan County in an effort to not derail existing recreation plans and programs; and support for new and existing recreation programs with the potential to be self-sustaining via grants and user fees.
• I’m not convinced that a localized recreation district needs to be established. Okanogan County has gone to a great deal of effort to create the Comprehensive Recreation Plan of 2012, and promote recreation in the Methow Valley. If the citizens of the Methow Valley feel the need for a localized recreation district, I think RCW 36.69 would better serve the public’s needs.
• Being a coach at Liberty Bell High School for the last four years and having raised my son in the Methow Valley, I’ve seen the different recreational needs.
• The benefits of a recreation district would be the funds that would be available for different recreational opportunities. The drawbacks would be that the way it’s structured gives too much power for the five commissioners with regard to levying taxes and spending money without voter input. The power of eminent domain is a huge subject for voters. I’m also concerned that it may jeopardize other levies, whether school, fire or hospital.
• My priorities would be to survey the community as to what they would want as priorities of the recreation district.
• I would definitely like to see something because I see a need for funding the pool and ice rink, either through the park and recreation district statute or through the county.
• I am running for the position of recreation district commissioner in the event it passes and voters want a fiscally responsible voice on the board. I would like to be involved to make sure it is managed effectively and responsibly, if passed. However, I think there are better ways to accomplish the recreational needs of the valley.
• I see a great need for recreation improvements in the valley. There are so many things we could do that would help the residents and the visitors have improved recreation activities. However, in my opinion, the proposed rec district is not the way to go about funding these projects. Just think – if passed, this will be a “forever tax” on our property. This wouldn’t be like a school levy we vote for every couple of years or a special one-time bond, it will be a property tax we will pay forever. And even though the current Friends of the Recreation District say they will keep the taxes low and not use the powers of eminent domain, that doesn’t guarantee that future board members won’t jack up the taxes and use that power.
• It is very awkward for me to say, “I don’t want it to pass but if it does pass, vote for me.” However, if the voters pass the law and I am elected, a top priority for me would be to keep taxes as low as possible and never use the power of eminent domain. I am an accountant and have had a CPA practice in the valley for the past 31 years. I believe this experience would be beneficial in reviewing the financial decisions of the board. Another priority would be to look at the wants and needs of the entire community, and do a lot of listening before actions are taken. We won’t need and shouldn’t afford every project that is presented. There are too many landowners on fixed incomes who are already being taxed too much.
• I believe there are other ways to accomplish the recreational needs of the valley without passing a “forever tax.” We have a significant trail system already in the valley that hasn’t cost the taxpayers anything. The current ice rink was built and funded with a huge volunteer effort and a “one-time” fundraising activity. We have talented people who can accomplish much without a new tax.
• I actually grew up as a parks and rec kid in New Hampshire in the 1970s and played sports my whole life, so I am a total advocate for recreation. I feel that through my experiences in sport, running a business in a recreational based economy and raising a family here have given me a desire to be part of a planning process that gets it right for future generations. For those in the valley who know me, I also thought that I could give a face to this cause and hopefully some confidence when voting “yes” come April.
• I feel there are three immediate benefits of forming the recreation district. This district could improve our communities’ health and well being by making recreation available for all who can’t afford it. The district could assist and take pressure off the towns that are stuck providing recreational facilities for the whole district. This district will have the ability to fund projects now that could take years to come to fruition because of lack of funding. The only drawback to this district is that it will cost us all a little bit more money, but I am willing to partner with the community and pay my fair share.
• This kind of sounds political but my priorities are about future generations. I would love for every child or senior citizen to be able to participate in an activity of their choice and feel the benefits of recreation. Secondly, I think it’s time to take our recreation-based economy seriously so that future generations have more opportunities to make a living in the valley. My priorities will be based in part on what the community wants but my personal desires are to see projects like Winthrop’s river walk trail system, the Susie Stephens trail and Twisp’s riverfront trail become a reality.
• At this point, RCW 35.61 is the only one I can support. It gives the voters of the Methow Valley School District the power to control and plan for their future. It’s local, it’s home-grown and the money stays on this side of the mountains. RCW 36.39 does not allow for local representation through a ballot and gives control to the commissioners, who may not represent the best recreational interests of the Methow Valley.
Fort declined to submit responses.
• I am running because many local residents throughout the Methow Valley, over many years, have expressed an interest in creating a recreation district to provide a stable funding source for the maintenance and operations of existing facilities, such as the Wagner Memorial Pool, and the development of new amenities, such as ball fields. I believe that the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District will improve access to recreation for all residents, and understands that recreation plays an important role in fostering healthy individuals and vital communities. Currently, many Methow Valley residents do not have access to recreation, and research supports that moderate exercise and physical activity contributes to better student performance at school, more productivity by adults at work, healthier seniors and benefits to the local economy.
• I believe that the primary benefits of creating a Methow Valley Recreation District are two-fold. First, all district residents would help provide a sustainable funding source for recreation facilities and programs within the district. Currently, the towns of Twisp and Winthrop provide the majority of municipal recreation facilities that serve all Methow Valley residents and visitors. However, funding is limited by the population of the two towns, a minority of the population of the valley. The majority of the Methow Valley population lives in unincorporated Okanogan County and the county does not regularly fund recreation in the Methow Valley. Second, if the proposed district passes, all of the funds that are collected locally will be spent locally and district commissioners will be elected by district voters and accountable to all district residents.
• If approved, my priorities as a commissioner are, first, to establish a district structure and district policies which ensures public process in the creation of a district plan and budget, and protect district residents from eminent domain and excessive taxation. My second priority is to develop a process for soliciting proposals from the community that support the maintenance and operations of existing recreational facilities and development of new recreational opportunities that demonstrate broad-based community support.
• If there is evidence that voters support the concept of a recreation district, I support exploring the creation of a district under a different RCW or organizational structure.
• If the Methow Valley Recreation District is voted in and I am elected, my hope would be that we will have a balanced board of commissioners to serve the public.
• The benefit would be that the money would be used in the district, but the drawback would be that the people within the recreation district will have limited feedback about the amount of the tax and where the money is spent.
• I would like to make sure the voters in the district are represented.
• If it is turned down by the voters, I would support creating a better vehicle to do what this RCW is not doing. I believe that there is a need for some type of recreation district in the valley.
• I made the decision to run for commissioner of the recreation district because I have served in the past as a board member for the Methow Valley Irrigation District and currently the Methow Valley Farmers Market. Experience, and concern for the people who live here and loving the Methow Valley as I do, will be critical components for the commission’s success. I have also served the community as a past Twisp Chamber of Commerce president. I am a native of the Methow Valley. This is my valley. No one could ever question my devotion to it.
• I honestly do not see any benefit resulting from the passing of RCW 35.61 in the April election. The drawbacks are in the invasive nature of the law itself.
• If the rec district passes, my priority as a commissioner would be to not allow any new “footprints” in this beautiful valley. Examples might be improvements and/or maintenance for public structures that are currently here such as the Twisp park and swimming pool, or Winthrop’s skating rink and park, or improving sporting areas that already exist.
• I am not in favor of creating a recreation district in the Methow Valley under any RCW statutes. Okanogan County’s commissioners are a proper avenue for creating future recreational opportunities in the Methow Valley with, and only with, voter approval by the people for the people.
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: Candidates’ forum draws packed house, 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