Park district takes a first step

The Bend Park & Recreation District took a timid step toward putting a $31 million bond measure on the November ballot to develop large-scale projects and buy more land.

While the wish list hasn’t been finalized, some projects could include an ice rink, a passageway for floaters and boaters at the Colorado Avenue dam, upgrades to the Deschutes River Trail, and an analysis of how to address sedimentation buildup in Mirror Pond.

On Tuesday, the park district board of directors said it supported the idea of asking voters to approve a property-tax-funded bond measure, but admitted there’s still a lot of research to do.

“This is a very preliminary, very big, ugly, scary step,” Board Chairman Ted Schoenborn said. “Well, I shouldn’t say it’s ugly, but it is big and it is scary.”

The $31 million bond measure would be paid back through property tax assessments. According to district officials, an assessment for the average homeowner would be less than $50 a year.

In addition to a nearly $20 million list of possible construction and development projects, directors discussed an $11 million list of potential property acquisitions. That discussion took place during an executive session that was not open to the public.

If any land acquisitions were a part of a bond measure, Park District Executive Director Don Horton said that property information would almost certainly be revealed. In general, he said the district is looking at property that bolsters the Deschutes River trail system and add to the amount of open space that’s available, particularly for regional parks such as Shevlin Park.

Director Ruth Williamson expressed the most apprehension about the bond measure. She was concerned about whether it was the right economic climate and wanted to make sure the district was ready to undertake such an “ambitious” proposal.

“If we’re going to do this,” Williamson said, “we (need to) understand that we’re going to have to give this 150 percent, nothing less, to give this a chance.”

The park district last considered a bond measure in 2004. At that time, the district wanted a new tax to pay for a $25 million indoor recreational facility and pool on Bend’s west side similar to Juniper Swim & Fitness. The bond would also include $5 million to renovate the Juniper pool facilities.

Ultimately, district officials decided not to put that measure on the ballot. Survey results at that time showed there wasn’t much support among voters.

The district recently hired a firm to poll residents about whether they would support a new park district bond measure. The results were mixed, with some officials describing the support in terms of a traffic signal that’s stuck somewhere between yellow and green. There was also more support for conservation projects rather than the expansion of recreation facilities.

Based on these results, the survey firm told the park district that it would “clearly be challenging” to pass a bond measure, but “there does appear to be a path to success.”

The district has until September to craft ballot language for a bond measure. In the meantime, district officials said they will continue to look at the best way to approach a bond measure, and work with the community to come up with a project list they think would pass.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

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