With ballots in hand, voters are beginning to make decisions on whom and what to vote for in the May 21 election.
Locally, there are five ballot issues on which to vote, one of those being the City of Lake Oswego's parks bond. If passed, the parks bond would gather an estimated $30 million to fund a long list of capital improvement projects that Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation, along with the city's Parks & Natural Resources Advisory Board, has thoughtfully curated and prioritized.
That list of projects includes the acquisition of new parks space, improvement of existing facilities and fields, and the development of new facilities.
These new bonds would be repaid from property taxes over a 20-year period, with the resulting tax rate estimated to be no more than $0.24 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The bond has support from both the City Council and the park board, both of whom have penned letters to The Review expressing their strong advocacy for the bond which is being billed as a renewal of two bonds from 1998 and 2002. Those two bond issues totalled $22 million which went toward the purchase of more than 132 acres of land, three miles worth of pathways and 40 acres of athletic field improvements. Those bonds led to the creation of both Foothills and Glenmorrie Parks, as well as Hazelia Field at Luscher Farm and improvements to George Rogers Park.
While Lake Oswego has been active in its pursuit of providing access to pristine parks and natural areas to its citizens over the past 20 years, the City wants to do even more, and the key to that, according to park board members Natalie Bennon and Bill Gordon, is assuring this new bond passes.
"Frankly, compared to our neighbors, Lake Oswego is falling behind in terms of investing in parks and recreation. We don't have the facilities necessary to accommodate the high demand for youth and adult sports," said Gordon, co-chair of Parks & Natural Resources Advisory Board. "There is a growing demand by people of all ages for access to trails and nature. And the City's parks and recreation department doesn't have a home. Staff are operating out of several small locations scattered throughout the city and cannot offer the kinds of classes and activities that current residents want and need or that prospective residents expect."
Gordon believes that parks and natural areas are economic drivers for communities like Lake Oswego to attract both new residents and investment.
"I think it's one of the reasons people move here. Most people say they moved here for the schools, but I suspect the parks and natural areas are part of why they stay even after their kids leave home," Bennon said. "Lake Oswegans are an active bunch. They are proud of their lake, their trees, their trails and their natural areas — and they use them regularly."
On facilities, it's no secret that LO Parks & Rec have been operating in a dismembered state for quite some time. After the department had to vacate the Palisades building its was left without a proper home, and users of Parks & Rec programming were left without a gym and space to attend the classes they love the most. The parks bond could be the ticket to finding a permanent home for Parks & Rec.
"There is no public gym. There is no central, public-facing parks office. The city is renting space to offer a limited selection of classes for residents," Bennon said. "The parks staff are doing an excellent job with what they have, but it's not enough. A central recreation center would be an axis point for our active citizens and a significant economic driver, attracting new business investment and new residents."
In a survey of residents completed on behalf of LO Parks & Rec by Riley Research Associates this fall, 85 percent of respondents said they'd support the bond. Although that's comforting statistic, both Bennon and Gordon continue to campaign for the bond ahead of the May 21 election.
While none of the potential $30 million bond funding can be earmarked for specific projects before it's a done deal, parks staff and members of the board are excited about the possibilities that this bond could bring to the citizens of Lake Oswego.
"We don't yet know exactly which projects would move forward. The parks board, parks department and City Council will work together with citizens to identify the right project. We do know they will be a mix of projects that will benefit everyone — for example new sports fields for our youth, new trails, more natural areas and facilities for adult recreation," Bennon said.
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