Brinnon park district dissolving, but not disappearing

Maria Morrison mmorrison@ptleader.com
Posted 8/14/20

After eight years of leading community programming, the Brinnon Parks and Recreation District is dissolving. 

In a special meeting called July 22, the four active commissioners of the …

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Brinnon park district dissolving, but not disappearing

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After eight years of leading community programming, the Brinnon Parks and Recreation District is dissolving. 

In a special meeting called July 22, the four active commissioners of the district voted for the ordinance to dissolve, which the announcement on the district’s website said was due to “an increase in administrative oversight and cost of administrative overhead.”

“This was a good time to take a little breath and look at it. Where are we? What happens if one of us were to no longer be on the board? Without the core of our group we would be in trouble,” Board Chair Belinda Graham said when explaining the reasoning behind the decision. 

Discussion of dissolution has come up before, notably in 2017 when similar talks were had amidst high turnover and financial strain. The commissioners decided to continue on, engaging new members and reprioritizing.

Graham joined the board during those talks, and was a large part of the reason why the board didn’t dissolve then and there. She worked with the other commissioners to keep the district going with concentrated effort, transitioning its style from one of a nonprofit to more of a government entity, she said. 

“That way, if it still has to go away, we will know we did everything we could to try and make it successful,” Graham said.

Running it as a government entity, however, required a lot more regulatory oversight, which required a lot more money. Audits and other requirements drove up costs and hours.

“All of that administrative work is a little bit more than what we as community volunteers can do on an ongoing basis,” Graham explained.

Now, however, with the COVID-19 pandemic having wreaked havoc on local businesses and personal funds and necessitated the canceling of in-person fundraising events, the district had to choose between running a deficit and trying to keep the district going or finally agreeing that they had done as much as they could and dissolving. 

Furthermore, the cost of insurance, with unknown increases incoming due to the pandemic, was too high to reasonably continue paying. 

Graham said that the Enduris insurance was projected to cost roughly $2,500 for next year. 

Jefferson County Parks and Recreation District No. 2 was formed in 2012 at the vote of the Brinnon community, 61.63 percent of which voted in favor. There are five commissioner seats, four of which are filled.

The district receives no constant revenue stream through taxes, and instead must hold fundraisers throughout the year to support the budget. These fundraisers became local hits, including the ShrimpFest Pancake Breakfast, the Scampi Dance, the Soup Cook-off and an annual arts-and-wine event. The district also hosted community events free of charge, including swim days and computer classes.

The ShrimpFest was canceled in May in compliance with Washington’s lockdown guidance, and other events that even had guest speakers lined up were forced to follow.

The events scheduled to come up this month were also in danger, notably the art-and-wine fundraiser, which sold out the previous year.

The lack of certainty surrounding funding put commissioners in a tough spot, leading to this year’s talk of dissolving, which kicked off June 10 when Graham opened the discussion. At that meeting, she brought up the high cost of insurance and election, as well as the difficulty in finding help. The commissioners agreed to hold a special meeting July 22 to further discuss such considerations. 

At that subsequent meeting, the commissioners gave their opinions and ultimately decided to proceed with the dissolution process.

Commissioners hoped to have some parks-and-rec programs and activities taken over by other civic groups in Brinnon.

This includes Graham continuing to head the ShrimpFest committee. The art-and-wine event is another hit that they hope will continue, as is the knitting circle.

The continuation of these events is possible through other groups, notably Emerald Towns Alliance (ETA), a local nonprofit, which will be assuming many of the roles that the district previously held. 

Graham also hopes to reach out to other groups once restrictions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic lift. 

“We’re going to do what we can,” Graham said. “There are other great community groups out there.”

The Aug. 5 special meeting that followed included discussion of where to donate materials and assets accumulated over the years, including recreation and art supplies to the Brinnon School Parent Teacher Organization; a rental agreement for Hjelvik Farm to ETA; and donating funds between ETA and the school.

The alliance will also be taking over projects that were in the works for the district, including a hiking essentials course and a program through the Jefferson County Library about mushrooming.

The exact timing of the dissolving is still being discussed, and Graham said the district was fortunate to have a Port Townsend lawyer doing pro bono work for them. 

“This is a new process that we are learning,” she said.

Per the ordinance, the board will shut down social media accounts which they manage and inform any applicable government entities.

Despite this dissolution, there will still be community involvement in recreation and events. 

“As we transition and we look to keep things going, volunteers are needed,” Graham said. “Keep a lookout for volunteer opportunities!”

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