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Council approves parks fee, still considering levy replacement

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Maintenance of Tigard's parks will now be paid for as a city utility, the same as water and sewer, the city said this week. Councilors have expressed concern about the fee, but said it's the best option for the short term budget needs of the city.The Tigard City Council has approved a plan that would change the way parks are funded, from taxes to a regular fee on your utility bill.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Council unanimously adopted a new parks and recreation fee, which would help pay for park maintenance and operations.

The fee will go into effect April 1.

Councilors have been considering the fee for months. The council is considering putting a property tax levy before voters to replace the new fee.

“Putting it on the utility bill is a bad idea in the long run,” Tigard Mayor John L. Cook told a crowd of concerned residents in January, “but that doesn’t help us in the short run.”

The fee is needed right away, Cook said, in order to address long-term city funding concerns. The city’s expenses grow by an estimated 4.5 percent each year, but the city’s tax revenue rises only 3.5 percent.

For years, parks maintenance has been paid for by tax dollars, but after voters approved a $17 million parks bond measure in 2010, the city has had a hard time keeping up with maintenance. The amount of parks and open spaces in the city has increased by more than 136 acres in that time.

Instead, the city’s parks fee would impose a monthly charge of $3.75 on residents, and a charge of about $7 for a typical business, based on the number of parking spaces that business operates.

City officials have said that the fee will allow parks maintenance crews to catch up on badly needed maintenance and purchase basic equipment, such as new lawnmowers and play equipment.

Qualified low-income homes who earn 50 percent or below the state’s median income will be offered a discounted fee, Wine said.

The fee is expected to generate about $1 million a year.

The city had planned on imposing a $10 fee for residents, but lowered the proposal last month after residents complained that price tag was too expensive, and would hit low-incomes families hardest.

The city’s general fund pays for four main parts of the city: the Tigard Police department, the Tigard Public Library, community building and parks.

The hope, city officials say, is that moving park’s maintenance from the general fund will free up money for other city services.

“This makes general fund dollars — previously paying for parks — available to invest in additional day-to-day city services,” said City Manager Marty Wine.