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County will siphon from parks budget to help fill $2 million hole

County parks officials concerned over one-year grab


by: KATIE WILSON - Glen Crinklaw, assistant public works director with the countys   Forests, Parks and Recreation Department, mows grassy walking paths at Asbury Park off of Sykes Road in St. Helens. The county plans to use day-use and other fees levied by county parks to bolster a shortfall in the general fund this fiscal year.Citing a financial emergency, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners recently passed an ordinance allowing the county to fill a more-than-$2 million hole in the general fund for the next fiscal year by taking recreational fees raised by the county parks department.

It's supposed to be a one-year grab, but the self-sustaining parks department is worried that one year could turn into every year.

If that's the case, "the economics aren't going to work out very well down the road," said Parks Advisory Commission Chairperson Linda Salle at a recent advisory commission meeting.

She added that if it is, in fact, a one-time emergency, the department would pull through. But there could be other, unintended, consequences.

The county has estimated a take $200,000 of parks department fees. But the amount raised each year is not stable. Last year, the department only made $170,000.

The department typically uses this money to ensure it can meet its operational costs and match any grants it has been awarded.

"(The ordinance) opens up a whole lot of difficulties," said Glen Crinklaw, assistant public works director.

It also saved a lot of jobs, said County Finance Director Jennifer Cueller.

"And none of those jobs were optional in this county," she said.

The county has experienced an extreme drop in revenue due to cuts to a federal timber revenue subsidy program. With that drop, further cuts seemed to be the only other option unless the county could find more money internally.

A timber sale on county park and forest land brought in an unanticipated wealth: $1.3 million. However, this money could only be used on parks department-related projects and expenses. The only money available from the parks department was what it levied through user and recreational fees at

County commissioners asked Cueller if taking the $200,000 for one fiscal year would affect parks operations in the long-term. The answer was "no," said Commissioner Tony Hyde.

"These are crazy apples and oranges choices," Cueller said. "Are parks more important than good roads? More important than legal accounting practices?"

"Is there a lost opportunity as a result of us taking this?" Hyde asked. "Absolutely."

But, echoing Cueller, he said, "At the end of the day, we're charged at providing for all these (county) services not just one. We have to look at things holistically."

Commissioner Tony Hyde said it is not a "permanent grab" although the ordinance states the decision can be revisited every year.

The Parks Advisory Commission presented a letter to the commissioners June 20 stating their concerns over the May decision and inviting the commissioners to the parks advisory commission meetings so that, in the future, these issues and worries can be resolved in a face-to-face discussion.