Pierce County would cut its funding for Fort Steilacoom Park but continue its subsidy for one more year under a draft agreement the Lakewood City Council will consider tonight.
For the past five years, the city has solely managed the 340-acre park under an agreement with Pierce County. Under the pact, which expired Friday, the city and county each pay about half the annual cost of operations. The county pays to lease the property from the state.
The proposed agreement would avert cutbacks in 2011 at the popular regional park. Located across from Western State Hospital, it features ballfields, an off-leash dog park, historic barns, natural areas and miles of walking trails. It also hosts special events such as bike races and Civil War re-enactments.
The county is reducing its contribution this year, but Lakewood parks and recreation director Mary Dodsworth said the city would make up the difference from its general fund.
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Under the agreement, Pierce County would pay the city $150,000 by July 1 – $64,000 less than it contributed in 2010.
The city expects to spend a total of $403,790 in county and city money to pay for the park in 2011, about the same as 2010. The city schedules special events and concessions, provides security and maintenance and manages projects at the park.
Meanwhile, the city has reduced lawnmowing, watering and other services at Active, Springbrook and Wards Lake neighborhood parks in the last two years because of budget cuts.
Kathy Kravit-Smith, director of county parks and recreation, said the one-year agreement reflects her desire to turn over full responsibility of the park to Lakewood. Her department no longer can afford to subsidize its operation, she said, and she considers Fort Steilacoom as belonging to the city.
The park was incorporated into the city limits when Lakewood became a city in 1995.
Starting in 2008, the Pierce County Council expressed its intent to transfer parks and open spaces to local agencies. Last month, the county announced that it would transfer eight properties in Gig Harbor to the Peninsula Metropolitan Park District.
Kravit-Smith said she wants to end the Fort Steilacoom Park subsidy after 2011 but added she’s not an “absolutist” and is open to discussing the issue given the tight budget times. She reiterated that the final say rests with the County Council and County Executive Pat McCarthy.
“We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize recreation in that facility,” she said.
The proposed agreement gives Lakewood the first right of refusal in the event Pierce County elects to transfer its rights to the park to another agency.
It’s unclear when the County Council will consider the agreement. It already approved a budget that includes the $150,000 contribution, so the vote on the agreement could be a formality.
Lakewood spokesman Jeff Brewster said Fort Steilacoom Park attracts visitors from outside the county, and city officials would like Pierce County to continue the relationship – as well as its financial contribution – due to its interest and responsibility for regional facilities.
“Ultimately, it’s a policy discussion that the City Council will have to wrestle with in cooperation with the County Council and the county executive and her staff,” he said. “I know they have significant budget woes, and that’s a factor here.”
The city has invested millions of dollars in the park. A second restroom facility is expected to be completed this month. The estimated $225,000 cost was shared by Lakewood, the Town of Steilacoom and Partners for Parks, a Lakewood-based nonprofit advocacy group,
Pierce County has leased the property from the state since 1970; the lease expires in 2025. The county received state approval for Lakewood to manage the park.
The city is also studying taking over management of Fort Steilacoom Golf Course from Pierce County, and increasing business at the course. The study is nearing completion, and the city Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is scheduled to review it Jan. 18.
The study also aims to examine ways to increase visitors to Fort Steilacoom Park by improving current uses and possibly adding ones.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 firstname.lastname@example.org