Park bond should take a back seat to more pressing needs

The first of what will be an expensive list of borrowings is facing voters this November — a $29 million request for the Bend Park & Recreation District.

Voters must consider the other massive investments being faced by the community. Soon the school district will ask for $98 million for additional classrooms. The city’s wants are even greater. The essential sewer project will exceed $120 million and the water project is projected at over $60 million. While these last two will be financed by ratepayers rather than property taxes, the costs are borne by the same citizens and add to our overall cost for government services. The increase in both water and sewer bills will be huge.

As a community, we need to develop a process of prioritizing projects before adding to our overall costs. It seems the park district is trying to jump ahead by asking voters for money before the vital needs of other agencies are considered, and before voters realize the impact of more important public investments. You don’t borrow for more toys before you fix the bathroom.

Our Bend Park & Recreation District is perhaps the best such organization in the state. The district is also probably the best funded in the state. It collects fully half as much as the city, out of which the city must provide police, fire, ambulance and other services. The cost of the bond is the equivalent of a 15 percent increase in their tax rate.

The district is amply funded, as witnessed by its palatial headquarters building on some of the most expensive land in the city. It also had sufficient cash to pay $2.5 million for land at Simpson and Colorado, again a very expensive area. With this funding and spending background, it is inappropriate to ask voters for $29 million at this time, $11.5 million of which is just for purchase of bare land.

The bond issue proposes to spend over $5.5 million just on the Simpson/Colorado site for an events center— in addition to the $2.5 million already spent to buy the land — and will later add a skating rink. Several questions arise from this proposal. First, why put it on some of the most expensive land in Bend and not near the population concentration?. We must also ask if this publicly funded center is appropriate, as it will be in competition with private investment. This proposed facility will increase maintenance costs, leading to additional financial demands.

The district indicates that some of this land might be available to Oregon State University-Cascades Campus. Should not this questionable and expensive project be delayed until the actual needs of OSU-Cascades are determined with certainty? Perhaps the entire site would be highly desirable for the university, whereas a smaller piece might be inefficient and less desirable. All potential roadblocks must be removed and all possible assistance provided so OSU-Cascades can develop quickly and efficiently.

Another part of the bond issue is $2.5 million for an increase in trails. It seems this would be a great opportunity for community involvement and volunteerism that in the past was a major contributor to the district’s success. The district has also been incredibly successful in obtaining contributions from the community for specific worthy projects, like Miller Landing and Farewell Bend Park. We need more of this instead of a big bond issue.

The district should put its resources into a much more important community problem, restoring Mirror Pond. It has a closer relationship with the pond, with its ownership of adjacent land and involvement with water activities, than any other organization. Most estimates are this could be done with 10-20 percent of the proposed bond issue. I believe it alone is more essential than all the projects in the proposed $29 million bond and the district must make it the priority.

— Allan Bruckner, former Bend mayor, lives in Bend.