City Council approves agreement with Metro Parks

The Tacoma City Council approved an agreement Tuesday night with Metro Parks that is meant to define specifics between the two entities. The $3.3 million, five-year contract is ideally meant to be a step toward Metro Parks – a separate municipal corporation from Tacoma – achieving independence from city funding.

A memo from the Metro Parks/City Ad Hoc Committee attached to a draft copy of the agreement states the need to stabilize the level of funding for Metro Parks over the next five years.

The contract defines specifications of properties to be maintained, service levels to be provided, recreation services to be delivered and performance measure expectations through the end of the agreement on Dec. 31, 2008.
The $3.3 million to be provided is an annual amount over the five years of the contract.

During Tuesday afternoon’s study session, Councilmember Kevin Phelps called it a “good agreement” that establishes a methodology for providing money to Metro Parks and helps avoid annual budget negotiations.

Councilmember Rick Talbert said the agreement puts park facilities back into the City Council’s hands. That’s good, he said, because this will prevent Metro Parks from being perceived as “the bad guy” when tough budget decisions have to be made.

The agreement won’t change the fact that Metro Parks will maintain parks, Phelps said.

City Council members and Metro Parks officials discussed the possibility of including some sort of provision taking into account inflation and cost of living increases. The agreement does not have such a stipulation.

A consumer price index was requested in the original agreement proposal, said Tim Reid, Board of Park Commissioners. There is not a pressing need for such a stipulation, pointed out Byron Olson, Metro Parks director of management and budget.

There was mild disagreement between City Council members on this issue. Talbert said it wasn’t fair not to take into account inflation, essentially asking Metro Parks to “do more with fewer dollars.”

“This is not something the Park District is asking for,” Mayor Bill Baarsma said, adding he hasn’t received any such request and that Metro Parks seems very happy with the agreement. Baarsma recommended passing the agreement, with the possibility of modifying it as necessary in the future.

A cost of living increase was taken out and funding set for a given time, as the city ramps down money for Metro Parks, said City Manger Jim Walton, calling it a trade-off. “Our theory was this is more and more a burden on city finances,” he observed.

Reid said Metro Parks, which receives 12 percent of its budget from Tacoma, is moving toward no funding from the city.

Councilmember Mike Lonergan characterized the agreement as a contract for services, with the hope of moving away from any funding by the city.

The Metro Parks Board of Commissioners passed the contract on May 10.

Metro Parks Tacoma was created in 1907 as a municipal corporation to manage park, recreation and zoological services and facilities for the citizens of Tacoma, Dash Point and Browns Point.

Governed by an elected five-member board of park commissioners, Metro Parks Tacoma maintains and cares for more than 100 parks and open spaces in the Tacoma area including Point Defiance Park with its Zoo and Aquarium, Boathouse Marina, and Fort Nisqually; Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville; W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory; Meadow Park Golf Course; and Ruston Way waterfront parks, including Les Davis Pier.