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Director: Shelton parks low on revenue

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Shelton Parks & Recreation director Mark Ziegler could see the handwriting on the wall.

When the economy tanked in 2008, tax dollars diminished and city leaders had to decide what to fund. Parks were not deemed as important as law enforcement and infrastructure.

So Shelton voters passed, with 51 percent approval, a special taxing district to support their local parks. Soon, revenue dedicated to parks rose to about $415,000 annually.

"In 2008 and 2009, we were seeing a decrease in available revenue taxes in the city limits, and that was due to voter mandates, state revenue diversion and rising employee costs, (and) to real-estate values dropping. The parks operated out of the city's general fund. But thanks to the Shelton Metropolitan Park District, we generated about $415,000 in 2011 and 2012," Ziegler explained.

Now that new tax money is drying up.

"We're looking at $301,599 in revenue for 2015. There is a statutory limit of $5.90 per thousand of assessed valuation that can be spent on all city services," Ziegler said. "There's a hierarchy by state law, and the district parks gets last shot, after the county, city, hospital and library."

Shelton's overall taxable value of real estate, Ziegler explained, has diminished to the point where the park district's ability to take taxes has fallen nearly 40 percent below its ability to assess taxes.

Ziegler is making adjustments to his labor force, and he's spending down some cash reserves the district accumulated during the first couple years of the park's taxing district. He said he set aside as much as $50,000 per year when the revenue was at its peak.

"The largest piece of my budget is maintenance. In 2015, that will be about $277,000. We do bring in about $30,000 to $40,000 in park rentals and recreation-program registration fees. Then I allocate about $89,000 for youth sports and adult fitness," Ziegler explained.

At this point, Ziegler said his focus is on keeping the city parks safe and clean.

"Closing a park would be the worst thing we could see happen. We are now spending close to what we were on maintenance, but we've seen a huge increase in medical costs and inflation on the materials we purchase," he said.

To balance his budget, Ziegler has reduced his staff by 1 V2 positions, and his seasonal employees might be working a shorter season.

"The difference citizens will see is that the grass is taller and the restrooms aren't open on weekends. Litter isn't picked up as often, and the garbage isn't emptied as frequently," he added. "We had a broken swing at Kneeland Park in the toddler area, and we just had to remove the chains rather than replace the swing."

Parks & Recreation is also responsible for the care of roadside landscaping.

"The part that is not doom and gloom is that we have reserves," Ziegler said.

Youth baseball is slated to begin in early March and Ziegler said a lot of the credit for passing the taxing district goes to the families of fastpitch, baseball and soccer players.

"Those programs are run by other entities, but they utilize city-owned fields. We hope the property values start heading up as the economy grows. The real-estate taxes from September 2013 to 2014 are virtually unchanged," he said.

Ziegler has made a career of running Shelton parks, and he said he's seen hard times before these. The biggest difference in providing services, he said, is the change in what citizens want from their parks.

"There's less interest in organized activities. Being on a team doesn't mean as much to people as it used to, and now there is more interest in drop-in programs where there is less commitment required," he said, adding that there is more interest in competitive sports but young athletes tend to focus on only one sport.

"Kids are having to choose, at a young age, which sport they will dedicate themselves to, so we are seeing (fewer) kids participate," he said.

"Closing a park would be the worst thing we could see happen."

Mark Ziegler Shelton Parks & Recreation director

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Original Publication Date: February 26, 2015

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