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District would struggle to fund operation of new aquatic center without increase in tax revenue

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A larger district would increase funds for a swimming pool and for a variety of other parks services.

Plans to expand the Crook County Parks and Recreation District boundaries are gaining momentum, but the decision will ultimately come down to community support.

The decision is spurred in large part by the recent effort to replace the aging Prineville swimming pool with a three-pool, indoor aquatic center. Though a construction bond would fund building of the facility, the district could not afford to operate it on a day-to-day basis without a boost in revenue.

"The bottom line is for the health of the district, we are really at a point where we need to strongly consider expanding our boundaries one way or another," said CCPRD Executive Director Duane Garner. "We don't even encompass the entire city limits any longer."

Garner noted that when the district first formed in 1990, its boundaries mirrored those of the Crook County Fire and Rescue District. The fire district has since expanded its boundaries, but the parks district has not, even though many residents outside of the boundary use the services provided by Parks and Recreation on a regular basis.

District leaders have considered expansion in the past, but an annexation attempt in 2006 failed to garner enough support. Voters in the district approved the expansion, but a separate vote by residents who would join the taxing district was rejected by a wide margin.

Garner said the district could pursue two different methods for district expansion. One is to once again attempt annexation, which simply adds land to the existing district footprint. The other option is to completely dissolve the existing district contingent upon the successful formation of a new district with the desired boundaries.

"They both basically accomplish the same thing, that being a larger boundary, a larger taxable area," Garner said. However, annexation requires a majority from both in-district voters and from those who would join the district. The formation of a new district, by contrast, would require single majority approval by the county as a whole.

Ultimately, the district had to abandon the new district idea, Garner said, because the only viable way they could pursue such an option is if Crook County leaders agreed to put forth the measure.

"They are not willing to do that at this point," he commented. "Really, that only leaves annexation as an option for the district to consider."

Garner stressed that district expansion might be the only way that the parks district can hope to afford building and operating a swimming pool. Assuming the public would approve a construction bond – and a recent survey suggests they would – operating costs still exceed the district's financial means.

"Pools don't make money," Garner said. "They have to be subsidized."

He noted that the district could consider going out for a separate operating levy, but even if it was supported by voters, it would likely create a tax compression issue.

Pursuit of annexation is strongly supported by both the district staff and Parks and Recreation board, so leaders will soon conduct public outreach to gauge voter interest and support.

"Before it ever even goes out, we want to do our due diligence and make sure that people want it," Garner said. "We are going to solicit input, do some community meetings, and perhaps some additional surveying, specifically in Powell Butte and Juniper Canyon."

If after the public engagement district leaders feel confident that the voters would support an expansion, they will pursue a ballot measure.

"We are looking at potentially May 2019," Garner said.

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