Ferndale collecting citizen imput as it considers parks district vote

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 20, 2014 

What kind of future do you see for your community? The answers would be as diverse and different as our body shapes, our sources of employment, our age levels and how we feel about our neighbors. I tend to believe that we all "care" about our community. How we show that caring is different for all of us.

With full disclosure, I admit to a passion for parks and trails. I enjoyed them as a youth growing up with baseball, basketball, football and simple, open fields of grass helping to burn off excess energy. Even today, any exercise that gets me outdoors is a good thing. At times, our weekend walks together are the only "catching up" I have with my spouse.

The new Obama Care plan has not been kind to my pocketbook. The cost of health care slams you in the face with a "staying healthy by exercising" mandate because getting sick is now more expensive.

In the city of Ferndale we have 126.5 acres of parkland spread out among 15 parks.

We will spend $450,579 in 2014 to maintain our parks system. We perform this with two full-time employees dedicated to park maintenance, some part-time summer help and limited supervision from other city staff. These efforts are supplemented by outstanding volunteers from our Heritage Society, Old Settlers, church groups, Scout troops and community volunteers. Most of our recent capital projects in Pioneer Park have been performed by these groups.

Is it enough? Are our parks good enough? Do we want to do more? Do we want to improve our parks? Are we willing to pay more for parks? That is the big question we are pursuing. That is the question that may be up to voters to decide.

In our latest period of public comment on our parks master plan, it was found that we have enough acreage to satisfy our present population. The master plan pointed to new and better uses for what we presently have. Like the trend in America, "instead of a new house, can we remodel the existing house to make it function better and make us happy?" This is only after we get past the basic maintenance first.

Again during the parks master plan update we heard from many citizens about their desires for improvements to existing parks. We are hearing more as this issue sprouts wings:

More lighting and a better parking lot at Vanderyacht Park;

Better maintenance of the trails at all parks;

Better maintenance at all our parks;

A nice, secure location, with restrooms and picnic tables, for a large playground structure -- something to enhance children's imagination and body movement, similar to the one in Lynden;

Trails and sidewalks connecting parks and schools;

An outdoor basketball court;

An outdoor volleyball court;

When the library moves out of the Pioneer Pavilion, it should become a true, multi-functional community center;

A trail connection to Hovander Park;

A walking trail around the former golf course property along the river;

Better lighting and play equipment in our neighborhood parks.

This list could go on and on. The question still remains: how do we move forward? Close some parks to save dollars? Do less maintenance? Purchase goats instead of lawnmowers? (Probably kidding.) Stay the course and not change?

Other communities have left us somewhat of a blueprint if we want to move forward.

Bellingham has three phases of their Greenways levy. Blaine, Birch Bay and Lynden have recreation districts. Some are formed on school district boundaries. I argued with our City Council that people in the Ferndale School District identify themselves as "being from Ferndale" even though they may not live in the city limits and pay directly for city parks or the new library. They still may bleed blue and gold. They may or may not want recreation opportunities close to their homes.

A parks district within the Ferndale School District, or simply within the city limits, would be limited in its taxation ability to 25, 50 or 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. You can do the math. Twenty-five cents would equal $62.50 per year or $5.21 per month.

Voters would have to approve two directions. First, to approve a separate taxing district and secondly, a vote to approve the amount taxed.

The voters would also decide who would be in charge of the district, who would approve how and where the funds are spent.

The Ferndale City Council has voted to begin study of a parks district based on city limits only at this time.

Believe it or not, politicians do struggle with hearing from all citizens. This is one example where we want to hear from you. They are, after all, your parks, both now and in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary S. Jensen is mayor of Ferndale. He can be reached at 360-685-2350 or garyjensen@cityofferndale.org.

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