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Park commissioners planning for levy


Commissioners of the Coulee Area Park and Recreation District plan to visit Okanogan County Assessor Scott Furman this month about putting a tax levy on the ballot in November.

Okanogan is the lead county for the four-county junior taxing district, which has never imposed a tax, but not for lack of trying.

Commissioners have twice asked voters to commit to funding the district, in 2010 and 2012. The measures failed each time with about a 57-percent approval rating, shy of the 60 percent required for passage.

President Bob Valen said the district needs to be “as clear and precise as we can” to get information out on what the funds would be used for.

Basically, that’s North Dam Park, which has become the area’s default event park, with ball fields and walking paths, picnic areas, a playground, tennis court and spaces big enough to hold events such as Colorama each May.

The city of Grand Coulee abandoned the park several years ago in a budget crunch after it was discovered that its longterm lease from the Bureau of Reclamation had run out. The bureau had no budget for it on that short notice and sought a local partner to help support the park, which was turning to weeds and sand quickly that spring and summer.

The park district became that partner and now receives grant help from the federal agency, but it has to put up matching funds. Since it has almost no other source of income, local towns began agreeing to help out with funds dedicated by law for tourism support for the now renamed North Dam Park and Event Center. That arrangement was always seen as a temporary fix until the district could secure other funding, and support for continuing it is wearing thin.

“I would like to see us, if we could, bring in close to $40,000 a year,” Valen said of the levy. “That would cover park operation, and give us a little … foundation money to start working on some of the changes.”

Some changes have already happened with the help of the bureau matches. Those are primarily geared for safety and accessibility issues, such as sidewalks and new bleachers around the ball fields.

But some initial USBR support has eroded slightly. This year another corner of the park it used to maintain was slipped into the park district maintenance responsibilities, and water for irrigation, which comes from the bureau’s Banks Lake, must now be paid for by the district.

Add those costs to paying for lights, sewer and garbage collection, not to mention mowing the grass and paying for insurance, factor in waning intercity support, and commissioners, all volunteers, are just hoping that this November’s election kicks up the yes vote to more than 60 percent.

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