Letters to the Editor

Letter to the editor: PenMet doesn’t need this levy lid lift

Posted on November 1st, 2023 By: Peggy Power

Appreciating the parks we have now versus what we had before PenMet’s formation twenty years ago has nothing to do with the advisability of this levy lid lift in 2023. The facilities/programs mentioned positively in other letters are included in the proposed $9+ million 2024 budget — without the levy lid lift. As current PenMet board members, Mr. Nixon and Ms. Kingsbury obviously have vested interests. Their passion for parks programs blurs for them the reality that public funds have limits. A vibrant community also includes public safety, schools, roads and all the other necessities that our property taxes support. We already have a solid network of parks, with residents already having opportunities of trails, programs and water access.

The argument appears to be that since voters approved a certain rate in 2017 that we are now somehow ‘obligated’ to pay that rate forever more, even as PenMet spends their increased revenues in questionable ways. What truly matters — the ‘rate’ or the monies that you actually pay that PenMet receives to spend?

PenMet’s campaign flyer promises more access, more facilities, and more programs but downplays the flip side — all come at more cost. The $9+million proposed 2024 budget (without the levy lid lift) is adequate to ‘provide clean, safe well-maintained parks and high-quality programs”.

The ‘need’ for 30% more just in 2024 has been created by PenMet’s own spending decisions. PenMet’s consistent pattern is to defer (i.e. ignore) maintenance for years as the facility declines, they hire an outside consultant at exorbitant fees to formulate a plan (which by then requires wide-scale repairs), then PenMet decides on a major rehaul, at much higher cost than original preventative maintenance, and proudly points to the ‘new’ building as an example of how it is ‘serving’ the taxpayer. Formed in 2004, PenMet is no longer an immature district. They have had almost twenty years to get things in order — before doing things like buying new acquisitions and then ignoring into decline (example: Peninsula Gardens). Keep in mind PenMet operated for 13 years without needing a levy lid lift.

PenMet’s recent PROS plan is revealing. Contracted for $140,000 to a New England firm, the consultant chose five ‘comparables’, three out-of–state. It came up with vague, obvious findings such as over 80% of constituents ‘would like improved access to hiking trails and waterfront’ and ‘increased quality programs’. PenMet now uses these surveys to say that this is what their constituents are asking for — never mind that the survey did not ask what constituents were willing to pay for what they wanted.

The PROS plan also found:

1) 27% of PenMet’s budget is spent on administrative expenses (compared to benchmark of 13%)

2) No preventative maintenance program is in place.

3) Capital improvement fund is at $15 million (compared to benchmark of $4 million)

Why are taxpayers paying for outside consultants at a premium price? One would think that PenMet’s well-paid executives could assess and plan in-house. Instead, we paid $140,000 to an out-of-state consultant, which would have paid for roughly ten Sehmel events such as the Scarecrow Festival or 2-3 needed maintenance workers.

PenMet has a corporate-like approach, top- heavy on executive staff and planning but light on actual accomplishment. Roughly 1/3 of proposed capital improvements are ‘Master Plans’ for several parks, an amount of typically $150,000/plan paid to an outside architect (including an ‘update’ of the Harbor Family Park Plan completed in 2007, on which no action was taken).

PenMet tells you that if the measure fails, it will have to cut spending. The proposed 2024 budget (if the levy passes) includes a ‘Procurement Specialist’ to be hired at a salary of $106,000 and two additional maintenance workers. If the measure fails, these proposed hires will be eliminated. The threatened ‘cuts’ do not involve existing staff but theoretical positions — another example of how PenMet can say things that sound one way while the full picture is quite different.

Check out the multi-colored flyer with lots of photos that residents received by mail. Consider the cost of design, printing and postage — all “Paid for by Peninsula Metropolitan Park District”. Three PenMet voter information sessions were presented by the Executive Director and Board President and attended by at least four staff members (presumably on taxpayer time), promoting the benefits of past and future levies. Then look at the highly produced PenMet video (YouTube) — another extravagance at taxpayer expense. Do you like paying the park district for its campaign to get your Yes vote for more money?

Passage of this measure commits each taxpayer to a ~30% increase in 2024 and by 2029 >70% increase over 2023. This is the last opportunity for voters to limit PenMet’s purse strings until 2029. Rejecting this measure still gives PenMet $9+ million dollars annually to maintain our parks. If you see in coming years that is not enough, be assured that PenMet will approach you again (as soon as next year) for more.

Peggy Power

Fox Island

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