St. Helens City Council has set and approved a $2 Community Recreation and Parks Fee, to appear as a line item on residents’ utility bills.
The resolution states the fee will not take effect until January of 2020, and will “sunset,” or end on December 31, 2021.
The fee will "provide support for the recreation and parks
programs as well as research for creation of a separate taxing district for support and sustainability of St. Helens Recreation, Parks, and St. Helens School Partnership facilities," the resolution states.
City councilors discussed the fee at the city council work session the day of August 7 and passed Resolution 1860 later that day at their regular session.
Matt Brown, City Finance Director, said during the work session that delaying the onset of the fee until January of 2020 would be necessary because of the city’s new software system that facilitates utility bills.
Before appearing on the agenda packet for the regular work session, the fee was set at $3. After a brief discussion, councilors agreed to lower the fee to $2.
“We never had a consensus to be $3,” Councilor Ginny Carlson said at the work session. Mayor Rick Scholl said the $3 had been his idea and directed Brown to change the resolution to $2.
City councilors have explained at various public forums that the eventual goal for funding the recreation center is to form a Parks and Recreation District, which they hope will be used as the permanent funding source of the program. St. Helens residents would have to vote on a measure to approve a Parks and Recreation District.
As Scholl explained during a June 24 public forum to discuss the recreation center fee, the $3 fee was intended to raise money not only for the recreation center, but also to get the measure for the future district onto a future ballot, and to pay for market analysis on what an appropriate tax for a Parks and Recreation District would be.
During the August 7 work session, Brown stressed to the councilors that he wanted them to vote on the issue that night.
“I need direction on this rec program. We’ve kind of hobbled together and taken money out of the General Fund to help get this thing started. I don’t think there’s any disagreement that it’s needed in the community, it’s just a matter of how do you pay for it,” Brown said.
City councilors first started discussing a line-item fee tacked onto residents’ utility bills to help fund recreation center programming last year, as Scholl explained at a March 25 public forum. At that forum, Scholl also said adding a line-item fee to utility bills to pay for recreation center programming is a “not uncommon” practice for cities.
The idea for having a recreation center has been in the works since last year, when St. Helens School District Superintendent Scot Stockwell approached city staff in February about forming one. Since then, the recreation center has developed as a partnership between the City of St. Helens and St. Helens School District, planning to share amenities and other resources between the partners for recreation center programming.
Having a line-item fee added to utility bills to support the recreation center has been met with mixed results from St. Helens residents.
City staff and councilors said they initially received a lot of support for the idea when they sent out a survey to constituents. At the March 25 public forum, of 20 residents who attended, two were against the idea. At the most recent, June 24 public forum, five residents attended, and at least two also voiced opposition to the fee. The Chronicle also ran an online poll for the June 26 print edition asking if residents would support a recreation center fee, with 75% voting against the fee, and 25% voting in favor.
Correction: An earlier version of this article termed the fee a "recreation center fee." It has been updated to call the fee a "Community Recreation and Parks Fee," and has also included the exact wording of the resolution stating the fee's purpose. The Chronicle regrets the error.