Fewer than 22% of voters favored ballot proposal
By Ann McCreary
A hotly-debated proposal to create a special taxing district to fund recreation in the valley went down to decisive defeat in last week’s special election, but people on both sides of the proposal plan to continue the conversation about supporting recreation.
The proposition received just under 22 percent approval from voters in the April 22 election, with more than 78 percent of voters opposed.
During public debate on the proposition, much of the opposition focused on the way the district would have been structured. Proponents proposed creating a Metropolitan Park District, an entity that opponents said would hold too much power to levy taxes, obtain property through eminent domain and incur debt.
In the days following the election, some citizens who were most vocal in opposition to the Metropolitan Park District proposal are taking the lead in keeping the issue of recreation planning and funding alive.
“There’s some inertia behind recreation planning,” said Ron Perrow of Twisp, who opposed the ballot proposition. “Now that we have this pot well stirred we need to move forward.”
Don Fitzpatrick of Winthrop also opposed the proposed district, although he ran for a position on the commission that would have overseen the district if the proposition had passed.
“The election is over but the desire of all of us to improve the valley recreational opportunities is not,” Fitzpatrick said in an email sent the day after the election to proponents and opponents of the proposed district.
“All of the participants were properly motivated, genuinely enthused, and willing to donate their time and energy for the benefit of the valley. The question in many minds is, ‘What do we do now?’”
Looking to the county?
Fitzpatrick suggested an informal meeting of interested community members to address that question. He and Perrow are looking to Okanogan County to provide leadership in support of recreation in the Methow Valley and throughout the county.
Perrow and Fitzpatrick met with county commissioners in March to discuss the county’s lack of involvement in recreational issues, and to talk about alternatives to a new taxing district.
In the weeks since, commissioners have taken steps to breathe life into a moribund recreation plan approved in 2012. That plan includes a prioritized list of recreation projects throughout the county, including several in the Methow Valley.
Almost no action has been taken on those projects since the plan was approved two years ago, county commissioners acknowledged. Commissioner Sheila Kennedy said she didn’t even know the county had a recreation plan.
The county has had a parks and recreation board, but that group has focused only on the county fair and fairgrounds. Commissioners recently disbanded the board and created a new board specifically to oversee the fair.
Commissioners plan to create a new parks and recreation board for the entire county, which would be established under state statute RCW 36.68, Fitzpatrick said. The statute provides for a seven-member volunteer board, with members appointed by commissioners. Fitzpatrick said the plan calls for two members from each commissioner’s district and one at-large member.
Fitzpatrick suggested discussing potential candidates from the Methow Valley to serve on the county parks and recreation board. Those representatives could help “prioritize recreational needs in the valley from Carlton to Mazama (and) advise the parks and recreation committee about what we want and need,” Fitzpatrick said.
Perrow said he has volunteered to help develop clear procedures that would guide how citizens or groups could submit proposed recreation projects to the county, including a written proposal form to ask for assistance on existing or new projects. He said he anticipates completing that within the next month.
“We have to hold the county commissioners’ feet to the fire,” Perrow said. “When we deal with recreation from this point forward we have to recognize that … recreation is taking the place of timber, ranching, mining. From an economic perspective those are minimized, some are just gone, and recreation is taking their place.”
Winthrop resident Fred Wert, who did much of the work to place the Metropolitan Park District proposition on the ballot, said he has no plans to pursue the recreation issue further at this point.
“I’m interested in seeing what other people do,” Wert said. “I certainly stirred things up, right?”
Kevin van Bueren, a proponent of the recreation district proposal and candidate for the commission, said he plans to continue working on finding ways to support recreation in the valley, despite the resounding defeat of the Metropolitan Park District proposal.
“The valley spoke, and this wasn’t the right vehicle by a long shot,” van Bueren said. “I’m in this for the long haul because I’ve been involved in recreation for two decades.”
He said he is interested in meeting with community members to discuss ways to address recreational needs. However, he was skeptical about leaving decisions about Methow Valley recreation up to a county recreation board and county commissioners.
County commissioners “have got the seventh-largest county in the country to run, in terms of space. Do they really have the time to think of recreation in the valley?” van Bueren said.
He said even opponents of the Metropolitan Park District structure told him they favored the idea of local planning and financing for recreation in the Methow Valley.
“I’m not sure the other side of the Loup is as evolved in terms of recreation,” van Bueren said. “It’s part of our culture, our economy, our lifestyle.”