Are parks important enough to the public to warrant a voter-approved parks bond is a big picture question that members of the Puyallup City Council are grappling with.
“We have debt to pay back,” said Puyallup Mayor John Knutsen at the council’s June 17 meeting. “I see no necessity to go further in debt. A bond for a public safety building should be first. We have a very poor public safety building and we rent the court.”
The recently adopted 2014 Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Plan identified deficiencies across parks and facilities in Puyallup. In the six-year parks Capital Facilities Plan, projects are identified to be funded with existing funds.
Unfortunately, current revenues in the CFP that average about $550,000 annually are insufficient to meet current needs.
“I’m dead-set against using CFP funds,” Deputy Mayor John Hopkins said. “There is nowhere near enough to use for ball fields and gyms.”
At the June 17 meeting, council members approved 4-2 the amended instructions asking city staff and the parks advisory board to conduct community outreach that will help develop a preliminary 2014 list of parks and facilities to be part of a potential 2015 voter-approved parks bond.
A $15 million bond is an initial target for planning services, according to the council-approved instructions.
While Knutsen discourages entertaining the thought of a bond package, many on council are at least open to a discussion.
“With respect to debt, there is plenty of debt capacity in regards to a voter-approved bond package,” Council member John Palmer said. “I think it’s a great time to proceed with this.”
Cliff Craig, finance director for the city of Puyallup, told The Herald that there is enough bond capacity to ask for up to $40 million from voters.
“State law allows us to have three different levels of voter-approved bonds,” Craig said. “General purpose, utilities, and parks and open space. Parks can use either the general or parks or a combination.”
A voter-approved bond requires a 60 percent vote to pass.
A voter-approved bond for Bradley Lake Park was paid off a couple years ago, Craig said. A voter-approved bond for the Puyallup Library is set to be paid off in 2019. Craig said there exists about $3.7 million outstanding on the library bond.
Deficiencies shown in the PROS plan include the need for five additional soccer/multipurpose fields. One priority in the PROS plan establishes a community park in the East Valley/Shaw-Pioneer area of Puyallup, the northeast part of the city. The PROS plan identifies this area a potential site for sports fields and could be part of a potential bond package.
Another project that could be included in a bond package is the installment of three multipurpose sports fields with lighting at the Kalles Junior High School grass fields.
The project estimate for that is $6 million.
Palmer is one member of the council who believes strongly that lodging tax revenue could be used to support the cost of installing multipurpose sports fields because of their potential for bringing people from outside the area to Puyallup for tournaments.
Council member Steve Vermillion asked that the lodging tax option be removed.
“(Lodging tax) can only be used for tourism,” Vermillion said.
Sarah Harris, parks administrator for Puyallup, said the advisory board will review the instructions from council at its July meeting and will come up with a plan on how to move forward.
“We expect them to come up with public meetings and try to get community input as part of the process,” Harris said.
Harris said public meetings to gain input could start as early as late August or early fall.