By Paul deWitt

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The Bend Park & Recreation District (BPRD) has its own taxing authority and is governed by a five-member board of directors. It occupies a unique status, as most other municipal park and rec departments report to the city manager or mayor.

When BPRD was authorized by a vote of city residents in 1974, Bend was a much smaller city, a fifth its current size.

Many neighborhoods had not been established, and Drake and Harmon Parks were virtually the only parks in town. The city operated a small police force and fire department, and there were many fewer streets, sewers and other utilities and infrastructure to maintain.

What seemed like a good idea at the time has become an albatross to taxpayers and the city. While BPRD has greatly expanded the park system in the city, it has also been responsible for extravagant boondoggles, such as the water park that serves a few whitewater enthusiasts and cost over $9 million to construct and its elaborate headquarters across from the Old Mill District.

No doubt BPRD is the envy of many city park departments, which have to compete for funds with other municipal departments. During the 45 years BPRD has enjoyed its independent status its budgets have increased exponentially, and many parks and recreational facilities have been built. According to its latest comprehensive plan, BPRD wants a park within one-half mile of every resident in the city. What a luxury few other municipalities enjoy!

Recently my wife and I built a new home, outside the city limits of Bend but within the jurisdiction of BPRD. When we obtained our permit, the largest single cost was for BPRD, $7,358, or about 22 percent. Nothing else was even close. Streets and water system development charges (SDCs) were about 16 percent each of the total, and sewer was 14 percent.

Our tax bill for 2018-2019 included over $700 for BPRD, 12 percent of our total tax bill, more than any other component except the school district. What makes these fees even more onerous is that our neighborhood has no parks or recreation facilities maintained by BPRD but is nevertheless within its taxing jurisdiction.

Why should BPRD command more resources than the police or sheriff’s departments or the fire department? Why shouldn’t our streets and sewers receive as much attention as the parks? The answer, of course, is that BPRD is not responsible to anyone other than its own board of directors, who are arguably not objective about how taxpayer funds are spent. There is no oversight by any agency or entity to determine how BPRD spends its very generous tax and fee revenues. In order to feed its seemingly endless appetite for revenue, BPRD is now considering attaching a fee to commercial construction in addition to fees it is receiving for new homes and hotel rooms.

It is well known that housing in Bend is unaffordable for many. One of the major reasons is the high fees that must be paid before any home can be built within BPRD jurisdiction. The city has requested BPRD to agree to lower its SDC fees to defray the costs of residential construction. BPRD so far has refused the city’s request.

No one questions the value parks and recreational facilities add to our area. However, there comes a time when priorities have to be established for limited resources.

What redress is there for the taxpayers of the city of Bend and those Deschutes County residents who incur ever increasing fees charged by BPRD? Why should BPRD be allowed to raise fees without approval by higher authority? It is long past time to call for a referendum on BPRD and put this out-of-control entity back where it belongs — under the oversight of the city of Bend and Deschutes County.

Any new taxes and fees should be approved by the voters, not, as The Bulletin observed in a recent editorial, “raised… at the whim of the park district board.”

— Paul deWitt lives in Bend.