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Parks fee gets majority support

Of the Keizertimes

The future of a fee that would create a dedicated parks fund is now in the hands of the Keizer City Council.

At its meeting Monday, April 3, members of the parks board and public works staff submitted the findings of a parks survey that residents completed during the past three months. The council agreed to schedule a special council meeting to look at what the next steps will be. No date was set, but there will be time for residents to offer public testimony.

Matt Lawyer, a member of the parks board and the point man leading up the survey effort, delivered the results with visual aids. Lawyer brought in two basketball hoops, one that was rusty and broken taken from a court in Claggett Creek Park and a new one he purchased himself and was donating as a replacement.

“One of these is where we are right now, the other is where I think we deserve to be,” Lawyer said.

Residents returned 1,102 surveys, which amounts to about 8 percent of Keizer’s roughly 14,300 households. Most survey respondents (23.8 percent) said they supported a $4 fee, but the results were fairly close across the board. An $8 fee was supported by 21.9 percent of respondents; a $2 fee garnered in with 21.6 percent of the votes; 17.2 percent wanted no fee; and a $6 fee had the lowest level of support (15.9 percent).

More than 40 percent of those who responded to the survey said they were age 55 or older. About 14 percent of the survey respondents were under 18 years of age.

In addition to sussing out support for a dedicated parks fee, the survey asked residents about their priorities when it comes to maintaining existing facilities and amenities and what they want prioritized if or when money becomes available for new amenities.

Regarding maintenance: maintaining restrooms was tops; daily cleaning and debris removal was second; removal of poison oak was third; maintaining playground equipment was fourth; and updating and repairing park equipment was fifth.

On new amenities and services, responders wanted: more removal of poison oak; more walking and biking paths; more restrooms; more youth sports options and removal of ivy and dying trees as top priorities.

Lawyer noted that maintenance tasks in general took a higher priority than even the most popular new amenity requested by responders.

In spaces available for additional comments the top areas of concern for respondents were: not opening new parks if the city can’t maintain what is already available; closing or selling underutilized parks; charging day use fee for park users; and the ability of low or fixed income residents to afford the fee.

While the response to the survey was not barnstorming, City Manager Chris Eppley noted that the biannual city survey typically elicits the same kind of response.

Parks board member Jim Taylor, a former city councilor, suggested that the problem is not a new one.

“It’s the same problem we’ve had for years of people not understanding the budget process.  It’s things that they don’t know and don’t have to know. They don’t know we have a parks budget of $336,000, they think it’s $3 million,” Taylor said.

Mayor Cathy Clark thanked the parks board for its extensive work on the survey and outreach to residents.

“Sometimes the least cost means paying for it. (Your work) helped us get a batter grasp of the true cost,” Clark said.

Without a set date for the special council meeting, Clark said budget planning would proceed without taking a parks fee into account. City staff have already begun drafting their needs for the 2017-18 fiscal year and the Keizer Budget Advisory Committee begins meeting in May.