Staff consider multitude of options including levies, adopt-a-park programs and 'gifting' lesser used parks

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown speaks with the St. Helens City Council on Wednesday, Nov. 1, about potential cost-saving measures and revenue-generating ideas to support city parks. St. Helens city staff are coming up with ideas, including closing parks or seeking a local option levy, to present to the City Council for how to pay for maintenance in city parks, improve facilities and in some cases, save money.

In the wake of the City Council's rejection last month of a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which would have been used to fund park and sidewalk improvements, St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown began generating a new set of ideas to improve the city's parks.

The money generated from the proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax would have provided a revenue source to help pay $3.9 million in proposed park improvements specified in a 2015 parks and trails master plan.

After the tax failed, Brown informally polled audience members at a public forum about what ideas they supported to generate funding to support parks in St. Helens.

Brown then spoke with a small contingent of city staff to determine what ideas were viable and supported by city employees. During a work session, Wednesday, Nov. 1, Brown presented the City Council with that list.

Some of the most notable ideas include continuing to apply for grants to pay for projects, utilizing funds collected from system development charges and potentially seeking a local option levy.

Additionally, Brown also outlined some options to close parks that are least used or transfer their ownership to other entities as a potential cost-saving measures.

As an example, the report suggested gifting Civic Pride Park on 12th Street behind Lewis and Clark Elementary School to the Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District, which is a tax-based special district that operates independently of the city. Other ideas included engaging in conversations with the Oregon State Marine Board about gifting the Sand Island property to them, instead of having the city maintain the property.

During deliberations, Council President Doug Morten expressed concern about the idea of gifting parks to those entities because they had both previously rejected the idea of taking the lands.

Morten said he was in favor of an adopt-a-park style program where community groups would support clean-up efforts and maintenance projects in various locations, which Brown also proposed as an option.

Morten also suggested taking the ideas to the city's parks commission, which he serves as a liaison to, for its next meeting in December.

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