River Road Parks and Recreation In Annexation Limbo
Annexation, the gradual but inevitable process of adding property within Eugene’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to the city, is by far the hottest topic on River Road. It frames just about every issue affecting the neighborhood, from how outmoded storm drains are dealt with to who takes the call when an emergency happens.
The June 11th River Road Community Organization general meeting examined one potential casualty of the annexation process, the River Road Parks and Recreation District.
Dale Weigandt of River Road Parks and Rec first shared some history of this special district. First voted in by Lane County residents of the River Road area about 35 years ago, it has its own Board of Directors and is supported by the property taxes paid by those property owners along River Road that lie within Lane County, but not the City of Eugene.
An estimated 17,000 people access the River Road Recreation Center and its programs each month. Even more access the 9-acre Emerald Park. River Road Community Organization itself uses the Park District’s Annex building near Goodwill on River Road for its monthly neighborhood meetings.
Despite its popularity, the District is in danger of disappearing as the City of Eugene annexes property within the UGB, which happens to overlap with the district’s tax boundaries. Property owners who annex to the City pay slightly higher taxes but enjoy the benefits of being a Eugene resident – access to the public library system and the police force key among them. The patchwork of property in the River Road and Santa Clara neighborhoods that has not yet been annexed is served by the county sheriff’s department, by contract for fire services on River Road, and by special districts like the Santa Clara Fire Department and River Road Parks and Recreation.
According to Weigandt, all Lane County special districts serving residents within the Eugene UGB are in danger of losing their tax base unless they can negotiate an urban services agreement, also known as an ORS-195 agreement, with the City. In 2008, a serial levy was instated to allow the River Road Parks District to continue operating, but it expires next year.
Dale Weigandt is meeting with Eugene city planners this week to negotiate a longer-term agreement that will allow River Road Parks and Recreation to remain a district even as the entire neighborhood is annexed to the city. This agreement may require the district to expand its services to become a regional parks district similar to Willamalane in Springfield. With the City’s budget already stretched tightly, it may be looking for alternative ways to fund non-essential services like parks. According to Weigandt, special districts are a better deal for the taxpayer than city services, because they don’t have the same requirements to pay retirement and other benefits to their employees.
As the district and the City of Eugene negotiate an agreement, which Weigandt says could be as far as two years away, River Road residents remain unsure about how they will access the valuable health and social benefits of the Park District’s services after the current tax levy runs out.