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Will voters support new parks bond? Maybe, survey says

A new Portland Parks & Recreation survey shows lukewarm voter support for a new bond measure, which has prompted parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz to say she's "cautiously optimistic."

The phone survey, conducted in late May by DHM Research, shows 48 percent of the 800 likely voters expressed support for a parks bond (26 percent with strong support, 22 with somewhat support), and 12 percent not sure.

More respondents were favor when they were told that the bond is a replacement fund and “will fund critical parks repairs without increasing tax rates.”

After learning that property taxes would go down if voters reject a bond, voters chose to keep their tax rates level to invest in the parks system.

When given a reason to oppose the replacement bond, opposition grew by a few percentage points, and support dropped to 65 percent.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the survey indicates Portlanders may be willing to invest in crucial repairs to our Parks facilities,” Fritz said in a Monday statement. "I find it heartening that Portlanders recognize the need for investment. Still, we need to do more work to finalize our recommendation on whether to proceed with a bond replacement.”

Fritz said she'll open the conversation to the larger community and parks stakeholders. There will be meetings and additional surveys, as well as a town hall, planned for June. There will also be an expanded Parks Budget Advisory Committee and Portland Parks Foundation Board meeting in early July.

The parks bureau says 87 percent of Portlanders love their parks system, with 32 percent ranking the quality of service as “very good” and 55 percent as “good.”

Parks Director Mike Abbaté said in a statement: "We have a nationally recognized parks system because of a 150-year legacy of public stewardship.I am pleased that the commissioner is having serious discussions on the critical maintenance needs across our parks system, including replacing aging playgrounds, fixing unsafe trails, and other major repairs which currently lack funding."

Homeowners pay 87 cents per $1,000 on their assessed property value for the expiring 1994 parks bond. A replacement bond measure would replace the expiring one, without increasing property tax rates.

If the 1994 bond expires in 2015 and is not replaced, the annual property tax rate paid by a typical homeowner with a home valued at $150,000 would decrease by $13.

Officials estimate the parks will need more than $365 million in replacement and maintenance projects over the next 10 years.

A new bond at the same rate can generate an estimated $56 million to $68 million over the next 20 years.

A new bond would:

• Replace deteriorating playgrounds, including the Couch Park structure serving the Metropolitan Learning Center Portland Public school, which recently had to be removed due to potentially catastrophic failure.

• Reopen and stabilize trails such as the closed Maple Trail in Forest Park

• Repair community swimming pools to prevent emergency closures and extend usable life

• Ensure that more facilities and natural areas are safe and accessible to all, including people with disabilities

• Make repairs and protecting worker safety at Mount Tabor Yard

• Make structural repairs to Pioneer Courthouse Square

• Make other major maintenance repairs like restoring restrooms and fixing leaking roofs

For more info, visit www.portlandparks.org.