Survey: Residents split on rec-district tax boost

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By Stephanie DeCamp

When it comes to improving their parks and recreation centers, Evergreen residents know exactly what they want — and how they want to fund any improvements.

The Evergreen Park and Recreation board met Oct. 8 to discuss the results of a multiple-choice survey by the National Research Center about how to move forward with improvement ideas, and which of those ideas residents favored. There are 2,380 active voters in the Evergreen rec district; 401 answered the telephone survey. An online survey was also made available and drew 926 responses. However, conclusions came from the phone survey results.

Property-tax increase

Twenty-five percent of respondents said that if a vote were held now, they would favor an increase in the district's property-tax levy, and 36 percent said they might vote in favor; a third said they would vote against increasing taxes.

Respondents then were asked about specific increases: $50, $100 or $200 for the owner of a home valued at $500,000. A solid majority said they would support the $50 or $100 increase, with "less than a majority" supporting a $200 increase.

"It looks like, at this point, that people want these additions and are willing to pay for them," said Erin Caldwell, the National Research Center’s senior director of research who presented the results to the board.

"But also," pointed out board member Janet Heck Doyle, "I think that there’s a big difference between what people say they want, what they’re willing to pay for and what makes sense for us to provide.”

The district last raised taxes in 2005 to fund the purchase of Stagecoach Park, to develop the Marshdale fields and to pay for a variety of improvements. 

Proposed additions, improvements

Seventy-five percent of survey respondents said promotion and marketing of the district and its facilities should target district residents, not work to bring nonresidents to Evergreen.

In views on district parks and facilities, 70 percent said they don’t want sculptures or statues in parks. But when asked about specific sculpture and statue ideas, Caldwell said, many conceded they would support non-intrusive installations, primarily on the southern end of Buchanan Park. Respondents wanted the north side of Buchanan to remain more natural.

For the south side of the park specifically, the study suggested that a plan be made for the size and location of an adventure playground, outdoor basketball court and expanded community garden.

The National Research Center recommended that, for the park as a whole, a plan should focus on adding unobtrusive and low-key features, including places for passive activities such as picnics. Interpretive and educational signs would also be included. The board was advised to strike a balance between residents who don't want development and those who do‚ which, according to the study, was about a 70-30 split.

Another study should be conducted, Caldwell advised, to assess the feasibility of expanding Buchanan Recreation Center to include more gym space, an area for fitness classes and an expansion of the pool.

Three-quarters of respondents said it was "somewhat" or "very" important that the trails between Evergreen High School and Wulf Recreation Center be connected to those of the library and downtown. Twenty-five percent said that it was "not at all" important.

Fifty-three percent opposed any additions or improvements to the veterans' memorial at Buchanan.

When it came to how the board approached special events with nonprofit organizations, a new perspective was suggested by the center: The board should focus on being more of a provider of facilities for said events instead of an active, full-scale sponsor of them.

Who was surveyed

Board member Peter Lindquist said the most interesting part of the survey results were the demographics of those contacted relative to their views.

"I bring this up because I think it’s important and relative to the results of the survey, and some of the comments that were made," he said. "Fifty percent of the respondents on the scientific (phone) survey were 55 and older. And 62 percent of the respondents lived here more than 11 years. And further, 68 percent of the respondents had no children in the household."

Those respondents, he said, would probably have a very different view of Evergreen and what it could be than residents with kids who have lived here for only a few years.

"I kind of went, 'Whoa, wait a second. I have to re-look at this and think about the responses that came in,'” he said. “Because I have to say, for me, if I’d have read (the demographic information) first, I would have been even more surprised by some of the responses. I would have expected very, very different comments, and very different results of what people want and what they see."

However, board member Kit Darrow pointed out that those demographics are the basic profile of an Evergreen resident. The average age, she said, is 51, and only a third of those who live here have school-age children. 

Lindquist said that, overall, the results of the survey appeared to be “as far from the public comments at meetings as you can get.”

Caldwell pointed out that a loud minority can influence how public opinion is perceived. She said the survey was conducted only with active voters, which tend to be older, and that only one voter per household was surveyed.

Wulf Park ribbon-cutting

Evergreen Park & Recreation District's ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Wulf Park has been rescheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m.

The original date of Sept. 28 was cancelled because of flood-related construction delays.

EPRD Executive Director Scott Robson will lead a walking tour of the 6.36-acre park at Wulf Recreation Center, 5300 S. Olive Road, which used to be steep and difficult to access. For more information, visit www.evergreenrecreation.com.