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Local commissioners consider establishing tax-levying parks district in Sunnyside

The Sunnyside Board of Parks and Recreation met yesterday (Wednesday) for its monthly meeting and discussed a variety of issues, including a new chapter in the Sunnyside Municipal Code, a park district and facility updates.

But before commissioners could get into the meat of the agenda, Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole made an objection to last month's meeting's minutes. Cole wanted to clear up what he said were rumors that the school district might be taking over the community center and running recreation programs for the city.

That is not the case, Cole told Commissioners Kari Zapata, Bob Sarmiento Sr., Dorothy Aiken and Pat Maynard.

The minutes read that the city would like to partner with the Sunnyside School District to keep the community center open and not involve Sunnyside's Promise, the group currently operating the facility. What the minutes should have read, Cole said, was that the school district would be willing to rent the community center if no organization was occupying it and use the building for school programs.

"We don't want to do parks and recreation," Cole said. "We would be willing to rent the community center but that would be the extent of our involvement. We're here to operate a school district, not parks and recreation."

The discussion came about, Sunnyside City Manager Mark Gervasi said, because it is unclear if Sunnyside's Promise will be able to secure enough funding to continue operations at the community center. He said the outcome of whether or not its primary funding sources will continue to support the organization will be known by March 1. One of Sunnyside's Promise donors is the city of Sunnyside and the city council will discuss whether to continue funding Sunnyside's Promise at its Feb. 28 meeting.

Cole also made clear to the parks and rec commissioners that the school district is not willing to rent the community center at the expense of Sunnyside's Promise. The school district is another major donor to Sunnyside's Promise.

The type of programs Cole said he sees at the community center if the school district does in fact rent the building is after-school programs and AAU sports. Cole said the school district would make the building available to other organizations, as well.

With that matter cleared up the commissioners continued on to the main agenda, where the first item of business was to elect a new chairman and vice-chairman. This agenda item was eventually tabled because Aiken, the current chairman, was nominated for a second term by Sarmiento. Maynard nominated Zapata, telling Aiken she has done an excellent job but the position needed to be filled by someone younger. With just four commissioners at yesterday's meeting, they decided the vote would be split and tabled the item until more commissioners were available.

Missing from yesterday's meeting were Doug Rogers, the school district's representative, and Ayla Schmick, the student representative to the Board of Parks & Recreation.

The commissioners then reviewed a new chapter in the Sunnyside Municipal Code with the help of Sunnyside Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis. The intent of the new chapter, titled 2.50, is to provide a single source for all citizen advisory boards and commissions of the city of Sunnyside.

The new chapter covers appointments, confirmations, terms, residency requirements and rules of conduct, among other things. The commissioners were tasked with reading through the chapter to see if there are any changes that need to be made.

A park district was also discussed at yesterday's meeting. Sunnyside Deputy City Manager Byron Olson told the commissioners a parks district would be a special purpose district that would have to be voter approved. This special purpose district would then have the authority to levy property taxes.

The park district would be created for the management, control, improvement, maintenance and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards and recreational facilities.

Olson told the commissioners that if a park district was formed then it could levy up to 75¢ for every $1,000 of assessed property value. But in Yakima County, Olson said, that's not possible. There is a $5.90 limit on what can be assessed property owners and Olson said with other levies from the city, school district and the county, there isn't much room. However, he did think 50¢ is possible and estimated that number could bring in nearly $300,000 a year for parks and recreation. He said the city already gives approximately $500,000 to parks and recreation, but most of that is used for maintaining parks.

Aiken was for the idea, noting that at the very least it was worth exploring. Sarmiento was on board, as well, saying something needs to be done about the city's parks and recreation department.

"There aren't many other options for dedicated income for parks and recreation operations," Olson said.

Gervasi advised the commissioners to do their homework when researching the parks district idea, warning there is a lot of leg work to be done before it could be presented to voters.

Commissioners then received a park facilities update before adjourning the meeting. They were told the city anticipates an early May opening for Sunnyview Park. The softball fields there will receive a $10,000 upgrade this spring. The city will also spend $30,000 to install a tiny tots playground at Central Park in Sunnyside for children under the age of 5.

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