Park district public hearing set for Feb. 6

The public hearing on whether to send the park district question to the ballot is set for Feb. 6.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Commissioners accepted the item on first reading and voted to set the public hearing.

That’s normal procedure for setting any public hearing. After the hearing on Feb. 6, commissioners will then vote on the resolution that would send the park district to the May 8 ballot.

The public hearing is part of the regular commission meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at the Civic Center.

Park district is on track to go to May 8 ballot for $1.5 million assessment

The ballot will simply ask voters whether a park district should be established. It will not include information on the assessment level since once a park district is established, the assessment is set annually by commissioners during the budget process. That’s the same process used for the boulevard, streets and portage meadows assessments in the city.

State law does, however, require that the resolution sending the question to the ballot include information on the initial proposed assessment rate and the duration of the district.

After community pushback and additional city discussions, commissioners opted to pursue a $1.5 million annual assessment for the first three years instead of the $2.3 million rate that was initially proposed.

Options considered for park district include lower assessment rate, flat fee

Last year, the city sent protest forms to all property owners in the city limits. Under state law, if less than 10 percent of those forms are returned in opposition, commissions may move forward with establishing a district themselves. If the opposition is more than 10 percent, but less than 50 percent, commissioners have the option of sending it to the ballot, or dropping the matter. The forms were weighted using a formula prescribed under law to give more weight to property owners who would pay a greater assessment under the park district.

The opposition reached 21.6 percent, but that does not mean a quarter of property owners were against the district since a single corporation made up about half of that opposition, according to city officials. The protest forms also do not constitute a public vote.

If the park district question goes to the ballot, all registered voters in the city limits will get to cast their vote on the issue, whether they own property or not. But state law throws another wrinkle into the process since it allows property owners who do not live in the city limits to vote on the matter as well.

The Cascade County Elections Office will have to print additional ballots that contain only the park district question for those voters. Elections officials told The Electric that they will not seek out people meeting that criteria, but those out of town property owners will have to request the ballot and prove that they own property in the city limits.