County updating five-year plan for parks
Spokane County expects to have $23 million over the next five years to pursue Conservation Futures land purchases, park improvements and recreation projects countywide.
An update of the county’s parks, recreation and open space plan is up for approval before commissioners on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Commissioners Assembly Room of the Public Works Building.
The plan establishes goals for delivering park service and outlines how much money should be planned for park expansion and improvements through 2018.
That spending will be directed in a way that provides a broad range of recreation opportunities for different ages, abilities and interests, the plan says.
A primary goal is to have 1.4 acres of community parks for every 1,000 residents living within the unincorporated urban area; 8.3 acres of regional parks per 1,000 residents countywide; and 115 acres of open space per 1,000 countywide.
The plan says neighborhoods should be given the opportunity to create self-taxing park service areas for local parks.
The county is at or near the proposed acreage goals but would need to expand park holdings by thousands of acres to match population growth through 2031.
“I think there is a lot of demand for our parks, and the demand continues to grow,” said Parks Director Doug Chase.
In the open space program, the plan calls for acquiring and connecting Tower Mountain and Krell Ridge to the Dishman Hills Natural Area and Dishman Hills Conservation Area and providing trailhead access. The lower Little Spokane River is also a prime area for open space expansion.
Land on Mica Peak and near Liberty Lake Regional Park is also named as a priority location for Conservation Futures or other open space acquisitions, the plan says.
Geologic sites left over from the Ice Age floods are also good acquisition candidates.
An update of the Spokane County Regional Trails Plan is currently underway. Its implementation is one of the park plan’s goals.
Parks officials show an anticipated $14 million budget for land purchases and development through 2018 from the real estate excise tax. Another $7.5 million may be obtained through grants from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
The Conservation Futures fund approved by voters multiple times since 1994 provides a steady stream of funding for purchase of open space and environmentally sensitive natural areas.
The county expects to have $5.3 million available for Conservation Futures purchases through 2018. The program currently levies a property tax of 4.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
In its two decades, the program has paid for 7,276 acres in rural areas, 255 acres in the city of Spokane and 15 acres in Cheney.
Currently, the county is allowed to use 15 percent of Conservation Futures funds for maintenance and operations.
Chase said he and county commissioners are supporting a new legislative proposal to increase the amount of the property tax collection that can be used for Conservation Futures operation and maintenance to as much as 35 percent.
The popularity of Conservation Futures lands for recreation has brought with it a need for better trails, trailhead access and trailhead facilities. In addition, the county has to budget for forest and land management, including erosion control, Chase said.
“We are hitting that point where it is difficult to keep up with demand,” he said.