Community Environment Government

County reaches, then scraps impact fee deal with PenMet Parks

Posted on January 22nd, 2024 By:

Pierce County agreed to share some of its parks impact fees with PenMet Parks, then abruptly reconsidered.

In 2017, the county began collecting an impact fee for park improvement projects from anyone applying for a home building permit in unincorporated Pierce. The fee began at $1,107, rising annually to $3,529 in 2023.

$1.4 million collected here

Pierce County fetched more than $1.4 million in park impact fees from within PenMet’s boundaries from 2017 to 2022, according to documents. The county distributed none of that money to the local district.

PenMet's largest project ever is the community recreation center that's under construction.

PenMet’s largest project ever is the community recreation center that’s under construction. Photo by Ed Friedrich

Then late last year, the two rushed to craft an agreement to allocate $472,000 to PenMet for 2023.

On Friday, Jan. 19, however, PenMet spokeswoman Zemorah Murray wrote in an email that, “Pierce County subsequently advised PenMet Parks that it cannot distribute the park impact fees collected within our district.”

State law makes exceptions to county code

The reasons, she said, are because county code restricts the use of park impact fees to facilities owned or controlled by the county. Both county code and state law also require projects receiving impact fees to be listed in the county’s capital facilities plan.

County spokeswoman Libby Catalinich stated the same thing earlier, before the deal disintegrated.

“It’s possible that some people had an expectation that park impact fees collected by the county from a home sale would be directly turned over to the parks district where the sale took place,” she wrote in a Jan. 5 email. “However, the law doesn’t work that way. The funds collected by the county are county revenues and are not required to be distributed to parks districts.”

State law, however, gives the county the option of allocating some of the money to other park districts on a project-by-project basis if they are included in the county’s capital facilities plan, Catalinich wrote. The plan included PenMet projects in both 2017 and 2023.

Arletta Schoolhouse

PenMet renovated Arletta Schoolhouse and is now renovating Rosedale Hall. Photo by Ed Friedrich

PenMet submitted a list of projects for 2017 funds that it said are “deemed necessary to mitigate the impacts from new growth and development within PenMet Parks’ district, making them eligible for park impact fee funding,” according to documents. A Pierce County resolution named projects to be funded with park impact fees, including those within PenMet’s boundaries. No money changed hands.

Facilities plan includes $472,000 for PenMet

The Pierce County Council amended its capital facilities plan on Nov. 21, 2023, with what it called the Peninsula Metropolitan Park District Partnership Plan. It included the $472,000 in 2023 for PenMet, $400,000 in 2024 and 2025, and $200,000 in 2026 through 2029, for a seven-year total of $2.1 million.

On Nov. 28, the county council authorized the county executive to reach an agreement with PenMet to distribute the $472,000.

The agreement stated that the county’s 2022-2023 capital facilities plan allocated $800,000 in park impact fees to PenMet and Key Peninsula Parks. Each would receive $200,000, with the remainder split according to population. PenMet would get $472,000, Key Peninsula $328,000.

Chambers Bay Regional Park is one of Pierce County's feature properties.

Chambers Creek Regional Park is one of Pierce County’s feature properties. Photo courtesy of Pierce County

The agreement required PenMet to use the funds for capital purposes consistent with state law to add capacity to its park system and consistent with the funding allocation Pierce County adopted through its capital facilities plan. The local district had to provide a list of eligible projects.

More fees are due back

PenMet rushed to sign the agreement before the end of the year, holding a special meeting on Dec. 19. There, Commissioner Amanda Babich said: “Millions of dollars have been collected in PenMet Parks’ district boundaries, and zero dollars have been put back into our community so far. … The funds need to serve where they are collected. This amount and much more is due back to the residents.”

Commissioner Laurel Kingsbury said: “I will continue to pursue this so our residents get all the money that is due to them.”

The formation of PenMet Parks in 2004 didn’t relieve Pierce County of the obligation to collect fees for the district, said Board President Steve Nixon. The county operated parks in the unincorporated Gig Harbor area before voters created PenMet.

Spanaway Lake Park is among Pierce County Parks' top draws.

Spanaway Lake Park is among Pierce County Parks’ top draws. Photo courtesy of Pierce County

Nixon called the interlocal agreement a first step. He thanked Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammier and the County Council, particularly local representative Robyn Denson, for their work on it, and PenMet Executive Director Ally Bujacich and counsel Mark Roberts for bringing it to the board.

Denson in an email on Dec. 21 referred questions to the county parks department. In it she cited “what we were able to accomplish, not only in fulfilling the financial agreement (PenMet was part of) back in 2016/17 this year (the Interlocal Agreement PenMet just signed), but also what was accomplished through the 2024-25 budget.”

At the Dec. 19 special meeting, PenMet commissioners authorized Bujacich to sign the interlocal agreement. The deal was done. Then a month later, it wasn’t.

PenMet reserves legal right

As a caveat to the agreement, PenMet advised that it “reserves its right to seek the remittance of the additional park impact fees Pierce County collected from within PenMet Parks’ district, but not expended therein, through court order or other legal process.”

Murray said it was added because “we are leaving our options open.”

PenMet believes the county should return impact fees collected within its boundaries instead of spending them on the other side of the bridge. At least for now, however, it will be receiving none, though Murray wrote on Jan. 19 that, “Pierce County has advised PenMet Parks that it will evaluate alternatives so that it can provide this important funding.”

Neither the county nor PenMet would elaborate on why the local district didn’t receive funds in 2017, what occurred during the ensuing years, what brought about the interlocal agreement in 2023, how they came up with the $472,000 figure and why that deal was terminated.