Go for full parks proposal.
Eugene's Parks and Open Space Division has been edging toward a request for public financial support for a couple of years by assessing people's attitudes toward the park system and asking what kinds of improvements are needed. The responses are uniformly encouraging: People in Eugene think parks are important and use them heavily. Now it's time to find out whether valuing the parks system is the same as being willing to pay more for it.
One message the parks division has received is that people think the city needs to focus on maintaining and improving the parks it already has, as opposed to purchasing more parkland for future development. Such a preference is understandable: Voters approved a $27.5 million bond measure for parkland acquisition in 2006, which has led to a series of land purchases over the past decade.
It's useful to have money on hand when opportunities to buy choice parkland arise, as occurred earlier this month when the city picked up 7.3 acres of riverfront land in the Santa Clara area for $450,000. But as the city's inventory of undeveloped parkland has grown, sentiment has swung in the direction of making better use of existing parklands.
The Eugene City Council is preparing to respond to that sentiment by placing two proposals on the May 15 ballot: a bond measure that would finance capital improvements to parks, pools and community centers, and a five-year property tax levy to pay for a higher level of day-to-day maintenance, landscaping, security and cleanup.
The amount of each proposal depends on whether one major project is included: renovation of the Sheldon pool. The pool upgrade would add an estimated $8 million to a $31.1 million bond measure, and an undetermined amount to a $3.1-million-a-year levy for park operations. Unless the operating costs would inflate the cost of the levy beyond reason, the council should include the pool renovation.
The renovation of Amazon Pool in 2001 was one of the most popular parks-and-recreation projects in Eugene history. The city could replicate that success at the Sheldon pool, where it has recently invested in improved dressing rooms and public areas. A big capital project at Sheldon would help combat perceptions that the city's park investments have been tilted toward south Eugene.
Without the Sheldon pool project, bond repayment would require a tax rate of 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. With the pool, the rate would rise by 28 cents per $1,000. A $3.1-million-a-year levy would add 19 cents per $1,000 to the tax rate. Operating costs for the pool might not add substantially to the levy, though there would be some effect.
For the owner of a $200,000 house, the result would be a combined yearly cost of $80 a year without the pool, and $94 or slightly more with the pool included. Those amounts would be reduced by about one-third because of the retirement of park bonds approved in 1998.
People who use the Sheldon pool shouldn't have to wait a decade or more for the next parks bond. The council can bring those people on board in support of the bond-levy package by including their project. If the bond-levy package is rejected, the city could return with a scaled-back proposal at a later date. But the council's first response to evidence of strong public support for the parks system should be an ambitious request.