It’s a landslide; voters endorse new Island Rec levy in a big way

Voters on San Juan Island gave their park and recreation district and high school sports program a decisive embrace, approving a new six-year property tax levy that’s more than twice what it is today by a whopping 68 percent.

A total of 2,691 ballots were counted in the early results of the April 28 election, an initial turnout of 47 percent.

Of those ballots, 1,847 favored the levy request of Island Rec, an amount that more than doubled the 839 ballots cast against it. The San Juan County Elections Department has another 300 or so ballots in-house that have yet to be counted, in addition to those that may trickle in the next few days.

The election’s initial result is not expected to change after all ballots are counted, Elections Supervisor Doris Schaller said.  Results of the election were greeted with a collective sigh of relief at the headquarters of Island Rec.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Island Rec Commission Chairman Bill Cumming said. “We’re very appreciative with what happened with the voters and with their support for our activities, and delighted and very happy that all our hard work and the hard work of the campaign committee paid off.”

At 38.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the new levy is more than twice the amount in effect today, 17 cents.

The new levy, which takes effect in 2016, includes 18.5 cents for Island Rec programs and activities, an increase of 8.5 cents, 12 cents will go to the high school sports program, a 5-cent increase, and 8 cents would go to maintenance and operations of the Carter Avenue sports fields and park, a new function for Island Rec. Private donations have paid for construction of the $3.4 million recreational complex.

Spearheaded by Friday Harbor Athletic Association, construction and development of the Carter Avenue recreation complex remains a work in progress.

However, Cumming foresees limited and restricted use of the sports fields over the summer and in the fall, pending permission by the Town of Friday Harbor. Full-fledged use of the complex is subject to approval by the town, in accordance with elements of the property’s conditional-use permit, which includes a yet-to-be approved maintenance and operations agreement for the park and fields with Island Rec.

In addition, Cumming said it’s expected to take a year or more for seed and turf to take root, and for the ballfields, other than a single practice field, to be in condition for regular and extended use. Plans for a community playground and park, and for a walking trail that circles the complex are in development stage as well, he said.

Meanwhile, the pending departure of longtime director Sally Thomsen means the Island Rec commission will be searching for a new director during the summer and assisting interim director Maddie Overnell with keeping the district slate of activities and programs up and running as well, Cumming said.

“Like it normally is, our plate is full and very busy,” he said. “But right now, we can breathe a deep sigh of relief, and then get back to work.”