Opinion

Please build Maple Valley ball fields, they will come | Editorial

Maple Valley is full of families with kids who play sports.

For as long as I’ve lived in this city, eight and a half years, as well as for the seven years and change this paper has existed I’ve written about the fact the city doesn’t have enough places for all these kids to play soccer, lacrosse, baseball, football, and so on.

I’ve written about the efforts Maple Valley has made to get parks built.

The lack of fields has come to a head for a number of residents. Reporter TJ Martinell, who attends Maple Valley City Council meetings on Monday evenings, said those who wants parks and recreation space in this city have attended at least three straight meetings. They have packed the board room at the Tahoma School District headquarters where the City Council meets.

During public comment they have asked the council why it hasn’t been more responsive to residents who have filled out surveys telling the city they want fields. They wanted to know what the hold up was in building fields. And they asked why the city has done nothing with the master plan for the Summit Ballfield site, for which a plan was approved in July 2010.

Bruce Laing, who spoke to me earlier this year about changes made to the Maple Valley Bears Junior Football and Cheer Association, sent me an email conversation between him and Councilwoman Erin Weaver.

Laing’s email sums up the frustration of many in the community who have seen the population grow here and homes fill up with young families with no place for their children to play organized sports.

“My children work out on fields that are dangerous, period, while you all tout what a wonderful place Maple Valley is to raise a family and hold up an article from a magazine as proof that you are doing your part. Nonsense…,” Laing wrote in response to Weaver. “Running a city is very much like running a business. You have to start with a vision and be willing to spend (and) borrow money to make money. You have to look ahead and be willing to take chances if you are going to run a successful business (or) city. How do you ever intend to increase the tax revenue base for the city if you are just going to make excuses as to why things cannot be done? What is next? Costco, Winco, Home Depot, another tanning salon, teriyaki shop, etc.? Great.”

Later in the email Weaver points out that many who are concerned about the lack of progress by the city to get ballfields built don’t stick around for the regular budget reports provided by Maple Valley’s finance director.

They don’t realize the city doesn’t have the money to pay for fields. There’s property: Summit Ballfields southwest of Four Corners that the city purchased from the Tahoma School District in 2006 and the Legacy Site on Maple Valley Highway across from Rock Creek Elementary.

But, there’s no way to pay for it.

Maple Valley has tried to get grant money. There has been talk of putting a construction bond measure to voters to cover the costs.

According to numbers provided by Greg Brown, the city’s parks and recreation director, in 2010, the estimate for the first phase of the project was about $8.5 million. At that time the plan, if everything fell into place, was to start construction sometime in 2011 or this year.

That hasn’t happened.

So, the question is what are residents who want fields — something I consider a legitimate want when living in a 15-year-old city with more than 23,000 residents — willing to do to make fields happen.

In early October I attended the Maple Valley Town Hall meeting. At the end Mayor Bill Allison told the crowd in Lake Wilderness Lodge the city may need to make cuts in the budget. I’m not sure that message was picked up on by those in attendance but I know it stuck out to me.

And as TJ has reported on, the city has spent down a considerable amount of its reserves, something it can no longer do.

In a cash-strapped city with a finite revenue source from home construction and sales as well as a tax base considerably smaller than Covington, which has a thriving downtown business core, one answer is to partner.

Looking to its neighbor to the west, Covington has gotten grants from the state, a number of them to pay for the first phase of construction of its Community Park. The city’s first ballfields should open next year. Right across the street from Tahoma High.

But, Covington sought out and got the support from their state legislators as well as other agencies to help pay for that as well as raised the utility tax to cover costs.

Laing thinks Maple Valley can be even more creative.

He encourages partnerships in his email. He pushes Weaver and the council to “roll up your sleeves and engage in action instead of making continued excuses.”

I identify with his frustration. One thing I do not miss about going to Maple Valley City Council meetings is the group’s inability to make decisions. I remember writing stories about how the council decided to push a decision off to the next meeting. Again.

Even though four and a half years later the makeup of the council has changed significantly, what TJ describes to me after council meetings sounds much like what I used to sit through. Why, he asks, are they afraid to make decisions and I tell TJ it’s complicated.

But this is a time, as Laing said, to do something. There is a master plan for this project.

There are people in the community, like Laing, who is willing to help that vision for ballfields become reality.

And then there’s the possibility the school district may do a land swap to get property in the donut hole, a 156-acre chunk of land owned by King County in the heart of the city which is unincorporated, for a new Tahoma High School. That property, if sited where the district wants it, would bump up against the Summit Ballfield site.

Partnering with Tahoma Schools is one way to make it happen, but I think Laing is right. I think the city could take a page from Covington’s play book and go beyond the obvious partnerships as well make the most of its relationships with 5th District legislators, especially since two of three will be new to the Legislature  when the next session begins, whomever those two are may be willing and eager to start off with a bang by getting money for fields.

There is so much potential but also so much pent-up demand. If someone released the valve to unleash that demand amazing things could happen.

I just don’t know what the catalyst may be to prod the city into action. From what I can tell the council and staff have to feel pressured or threatened to get things done.

So, I guess it’s time for those who really want to see more fields in this city to put on the pressure but, I say we all should all be willing to help whether that’s serving on a committee which will work on finding grants or private sector partners to work with or biting the bullet and passing a construction bond measure — which if the city is smart, they’ll find a way to do in conjunction with the school district.

I’m ready to do whatever is needed. I’ll pay more taxes, even.

In a town full of young families, mine included, Maple Valley City Hall needs to find a solution to this problem and make it happen.

 

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