Island County considers parks priorities

Island County Parks Director Jeff Tate has plunged headfirst into his new pool of duties, emerging from the mishmash with an optimistic schedule for completing a 2008 parks plan update.

Tate, who also wears the Planning Director fedora, took on the additional workload after the Board of Island County Commissioners transferred the parks department from the auspices of the General Services Administration to the Planning and Community Development Department.

Tate recently presented to the commissioners his strategy for updating the current, countywide parks plan, which has remained unchanged since 1998. Without the update, the county is ineligible for some grants.

“It’s out of date,” he said.

Tate plans to spend plenty of time with the 14 county park managers, discussing ideas and moving the department forward.

He said an intern is currently conducting an inventory of the park system to ascertain what recreational opportunities already exist and what can be added in the near future with minimal costs. The county has 54 actively managed properties totaling 1,400 acres.

Commissioner Mac McDowell expressed his hope that under the new parks director, the department will be more cohesive and organized.

“Parks has just been all over the place,” he said.

Tate agreed with McDowell’s assertion, adding that moving forward will require streamlining the department processes and using strategies that deal with finances and facilities.

“We will be more focused on capital improvement projects at different sites,” he said.

McDowell said a clear timeline and schedule will be important for the board and the public, as the definite plans and dates will keep the commissioners accountable.

Commissioner Phil Bakke recommended sifting through the available recreational activities and determining which are free or inexpensive, and which ones would fall under capital expenditures.

“We need to know what our recreational priorities are,” he said.

Bakke further suggested breaking the inventory up by county region and developing a methodology for how to proceed as well as put together funding packages.

Planning and Community Development will work with the planning commission this fall and winter to update the parks plan.

The complete draft plan is scheduled for an Aug. 29 unveiling. Once the planning commission receives the draft plan, the extensive public meeting and input process will commence. Public hearings will be held on Whidbey and Camano islands, after which the planning commission will transmit its recommendation to the county commissioners Nov. 5.

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