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Rockier road to park fee passage

Of the Keizertimes

After lengthy deliberation, the Keizer City Council enacted a $4 monthly fee to pay for parks maintenance and improvements at its meeting Monday, July 17.

It was the second fee enacted in a single night to pay for city services. The other was a $4 monthly fee for police services (see related story above). Both will begin with the November 2017 billing cycle.

Where the police fee cruised to approval, the parks fee was met with opposition at almost every turn.

Two residents in attendance, Bill Quinn and Jerry McGee, suggested starting out with a $2 monthly rate. Jim Taylor, a member of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, offered the only testimony in support of the fee.

“Parks and the police go hand-in-hand, with nice parks you have less crime. Two dollars gets us by but it doesn’t do the big ticket items, like the skate park,” Taylor said. “Four dollars will allow us to fix the skate park. If we don’t, it goes away.”

While plans are already in motion to repair cracks in Carlson Skate Park to keep it safe, it is in need of a much larger overhaul, said Bill Lawyer, Keizer Public Works director.

“To resurface it, they have to rebuild it, which means taking out components and reconfiguring them. Our preliminary estimates are between $500,000 and $600,000,” Lawyer said. He added that future wear-and-tear would be more minimal with new materials and a new design.

The city expects to collect about $626,000 annually with the $4 fee, which will more than double the amount available for maintenance and improvements. Discounted rates of $1.12 per month will be made available to seniors and low-income individuals.

Councilor Roland Herrera balked at the size of the increase, but City Manager Chris Eppley said that interpretation was misleading.

“There are two components to parks, the first is the people needed to maintain them, the other is the capital improvements,” Eppley said.

Lawyer said there was also a significant amount of deferred maintenance that needed to be completed.

“The funding has been minimal, and every year we fall behind,” Lawyer said.

Taylor, a former councilor himself, acknowledged the difficulty of choosing to enact a fee, but suggested the council persist.

“A decision like this has never been made in the history of Keizer, but it’s time to grow up,” Taylor said.

Enacting the fee required two approvals, first an ordinance and then a resolution setting the amount. Council deliberation on both was wide-ranging.

“Just because a person is not using a community service doesn’t mean it isn’t essential to the community. It’s for the good the community and everybody benefits from it,” said Councilor Laura Reid.

Councilor Bruce Anderson took issue with an $8 cap in the ordinance. He suggested that the cap might be seen as an incentive for future councils to push the amount higher more rapidly.

“I would rather focus on reviewing (the rate) annually,” Anderson said.

Reid countered that any cap was a double-edged sword.

“Any time we impose a specific cap, we invite trouble from an economic standpoint. Twenty years down the line $8 might seem miniscule. It could cause problems because people go there too fast or it’s not enough,” she said.

Anderson suggested a friendly amendment to remove the cap, but it died for lack of a second. He then pushed for an amendment to remove the cap and it died in a 4-3 vote. Anderson, Herrera and Marlene Parsons supported removing the cap.

Despite the disagreement, the ordinance to impose the fee passed unanimously with the addition of the council and Budget Advisory Committee reviewing the rate annually.

When discussing the fee amount, Parsons implied that she was going to push for a $2 amount, but that Taylor’s comments had swayed her.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to agree to, but we have to take care of that skate park. If we repair it and we don’t need that ($4 later) we can go down with the annual review,” Parsons said.

The skate park was also a factor for Councilor Kim Freeman.

“If those kids didn’t have the park, they would be at our businesses,” Freeman said.

As councilors weighed the $2 and $4 options, even City Manager Chris Eppley chimed in on the discussion, but said he was speaking only as a resident of the city who will also be paying the fee.

“I’m afraid that at the $2 rate people will only remember we imposed a fee, they won’t see anything of substance in the parks. I think there will be more discontent,” Eppley said.

Anderson said it was the first time the council was hearing about the larger projects that needed to get done in parks even though the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has been working through the issues for more than a year. Anderson was also present on a tour of parks last year that included a visit to the skate park and where matters of deferred maintenance, and increased costs, were discussed.

Anderson said he would have preferred more discussion of the “nexus” where the money would go, à la the way the police defined positions to be filled with the approval of a fee. He said he supported the fee but would be more comfortable at the $2 amount.

Mayor Cathy Clark had the final word on the matter before the vote.

“Sometimes being fiscally responsible means we pay for things responsibly,” Clark said. “The longer we wait the more likely it is we move from repair to replace. We have things in our parks that have to be rebuilt. Let’s not let another one get that far behind. To me, this is about being responsible and handing off our parks to our children and our future in better shape than they are now.”

The $4 rate was approved 5-2. Herrera and Anderson voted in opposition.