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Higher fees, advertising may help rescue parks

Mirror staff

The face of the county’s parks and recreation system will change following the approval Tuesday by the Metropolitan King County Council of a new parks business plan.

The plan includes shifting ownership of some county facilities to cities, higher user fees and selling advertising space at parks.

“We are facing a budget challenge that has already had an impact on our parks system,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds, chairwoman of the council committee that oversees parks. But, she added, “we have created a plan that will keep parks open” and provide “a more stable foundation to keep parks operating.”

Under the new plan, the county will:

• Focus on the maintenance and operation of regional facilities such as the Weyerhaueser King County Aquatic Center, and on parks and pools in unincorporated parts of the county.

• Transfer county facilities that are located within cities to ownership by cities and organizations that are willing to operate and maintain them. Parks and pools in incorporated communities that are not taken over by cities will be mothballed. An example is the Kenneth Jones pool in Federal Way, where city officials have included the pool in the new city budget scheduled for a City Council vote next week.

• Raise revenue by leasing areas in county parks that can be used for concessions and allowing advertising to be displayed in county parks and pools. Fees for using pools and county athletic facilities will also increase to reduce subsidies and the impact on the county general fund.

• Increase public-private partnership opportunities to maximize use of public dollars.

“We are changing how we manage parks and how we pay for them,” said Councilman Larry Phillips. “We must change if there is any hope of keeping them open in the face of ongoing declines in county revenues. We’re preserving as many recreational opportunities as possible by finding entirely new sources of funding to support our regional parks and pools.”

Many of the recommendations that are part of the parks plan came from the Metropolitan Parks Task Force, created earlier this year when County Executive Ron Sims announced the closure of 20 county parks. The goal of the task force was to develop funding strategies that would keep parks open.

The county’s parks system “is a regional jewel,” said Sims. “So mothballing parks and pools has been tough because they do play such an important role in so many lives. This plan is an important step in making sure that will never happen again. It will help steer the parks system towards economic self-sufficiency and away from its dependence on the county’s current expense budget.”

Edmonds said the plan is a foundation for a parks levy next year “to establish a permanent source of funding.”

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