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Residents soundly reject parks district foundation

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The fate of the city's Daddy-Daughter Day is now in doubt since the city will end parks funding at the end of the year and the effort to form a parks district has failed at the ballot box.

University Place residents rejected a plan to form a parks district to operate local parks and recreation programs that are set to end at the end of the year.

University Place Parks District backers had gathered more than 2,900 signatures from registered voters in the city to put the measure on the April 26 ballot, but that effort wasn't enough. By a count of two to one voters rejected the idea of forming an independent parks board to collect taxes and manage parks outside of the city's general fund, according to unofficial election results.

This was the second parks package to fail to sway voters. One parks package failed shortly after the city formed in 1995.

About 64 percent, or 4,770 voters, voted down the idea. Only 35 percent, or 2,609 voters, liked the plan. The ballot measure would have formed a junior taxing district, much like a school district and fire district, that would have been managed by five parks board members who would have had the authority to raise property taxes by as much as 75 cents per $1,000 in land value, although most projections put the actual levy amount at much lower than that state-mandated maximum.

The effort to form the parks district has been around the city for years, but kicked up recently, after the City Council announced its intention last October to end a $400,000 subsidy from the general fund to fund parks costs that aren't fully covered by fees. The announcement came as the council seeks cuts and fees to cover a projected $1 million budget deficit. The city will continue to maintain the 17 parks and facilities, although the details of that will come during the budget talks this fall.

There are no plans to try for another parks district formation on a future ballot.

Parks in the 8.4-square-mile city of 31,000 residents won't simply go dark, at least one will actually get more light. The city received word that it had received $200,000 from the State Recreation and Conservation Office to provide lighting and all-weather surfacing of the Cirque Park softball infield. The matching grant requires the city to pay $200,000, which is already budgeted and will be covered by recreational fees. The work is set to be done by the end of the year.

Mayor Javier Figuera noted that the lighted field will be used year round by not just softball players, but local children. The lights will also cut down on criminals using the otherwise darken field to hide their activities.

"This lighting will help with public safety," he said.

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