The lack of a public swimming pool, the demise of adult athletic leagues, the burn-out rate of volunteers in youth programs and the need for activity programs for senior citizens in Wallowa County were among arguments used to support the need for a countywide Parks and Recreations District during the first of two public hearings before the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, June 19.
About a dozen people testified at the hearing, all of them in favor of putting the district formation proposal on the November ballot.
"To me it's obvious how much we need this district," said Charlie Kissinger, who has been active in county recreation for 25 years. "The kid's programs manage to stay alive but it's a constant battle. ... We need to provide stability to those programs." While he noted that the kids will end up with much of the support, Kissinger added, "What really disturbs me the last few years, the adult leagues have steadily gone downhill." For example, he said for the first time in 25 years there was no adult basketball league formed in the county, and noted that while this summer there are five or six jack and jill softball teams in the county "10 years ago there were 10 men's teams and six or eight women's teams, each with their own league. There was a big 4th of July tournament in Wallowa, where up to 20 teams came from all over."
In response to a question, Kissinger said that the Ferguson Ridge ski area, which is currently having insurance problems, could definitely be helped by the proposed district.
Following the submission of a petition by the district formation committee last month, the board scheduled two public meetings to make the final decision about whether to put the district proposal on the ballot in November. The second and final hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 10.
Part of the proposal would be to create a permanent tax base of 36 cents per every $1,000 of assessed valuation, thus generating $170,000 per year for the district. The district would be headed by a five-person board of directors, which would represent five different yet-to-be determined zones in the county.
Among supporters at the hearing was Janet Doyle, who, in her 80s, said she taught "swimaerobics" at the Best Western pool last winter to senior citizens and had 26 people signed up. "If people have something to do, they will do it. ... You need to get out and move it, or you're going to get old,." said Doyle, who added that she personally doesn't feel too old to do anything.
"I'm gung ho for this, and I'll help out wherever I can."
Judy McDonald, who described herself as a water rat, said that she taught swimming, originally through ESD, at Best Western last winter, and ended up with a lot of parents approaching her about semi-private lessons. "There's a huge demand. We need a pool badly," she said, adding, "while a parks and recreation district can't guarantee a pool, it's a way to work at it."
Dr. Gale Barton of Wallowa, said he is involved with the group that is trying to get a swimming pool and rec center, and also supports the parks and recs district effort. "We've gone down so far downhill, we've got to start somewhere," he said of recreational opportunities in Wallowa County. He said there is grant money available to build a pool that only Wallowa is eligible for, and noted that effort is far from dead.
Commissioner Mike Hayward noted that the key point of forming a district "is to look at it as a county, not individual towns."
George Hill, a member of the Enterprise City Council, stated that the city council is in favor of putting the parks and recreation district on the ballot, but warns that there is no hope of reviving the city pool that closed down last summer. He also pointed out that there has actually been less youth crime in the summer since the pool closed down than when it was open.
Wallowa County Chamber director Vickie Rosgen said the chamber's board favored giving the people of the county a chance to decide the fate of the district. She listed a number of reasons that a parks and recs district could be good for the county: it would increase citizen involvement, provide after school and summer youth activities, be attractive to families thinking of moving to Wallowa County, and nurture community pride. Rosgen noted while the operation of a pool might be too expensive for one city, it would be more affordable with he county working together through a district.
Rosgen also stated that if the district shared office space and equipment with an established office, it would be able to spend more money on program development.