COTTAGE GROVE – There was some forward movement for the South Lane Parks & Recreation District formation, as city council voted in favor for a resolution to nudge the district onto its next step on Jan. 8.
In a proposal written on Dec. 1, 2023, the South Lane Parks & Recreation District formation steering committee outlined why they are seeking to partner with the City and place a proposal on the Nov. 5, 2024 general election ballot asking voters to form the South Lane Parks & Recreation District.
The proposal wrote: “Parks and recreation districts offer communities many economic, health, and other benefits. These include:
• Improving people’s physical, mental, and social well-being
• Reducing crime and juvenile delinquency
• Generating employment opportunities (including a first job for many youth)
• Attracting local and out-of-area visitors
• Increasing property values
Darby Valley, who had presented the South Lane Park & Recreation District’s work to Cottage Grove city council on Dec. 11, stated three goals for the district’s formation.
“The goal is one, to have an independent funding source. Two, to have a geographic boundary that actually works for the citizens of this area. And three, to have a management structure that allows for, forgive the word, synergy,” Valley said. “Basically, we can take over the programming for everything, so we have one source whether you’re in or out of the City. The City can’t do it because they can’t really program for outside the City. Outside the City has a harder time programming. In-city school districts can, but they’ve been overwhelmed with their budget cuts and everything else going on.”
While Valley did not knock South Valley Athletics (SVA) for what it does to manage local youth athletics, he did point out that there isn’t room for SVA to grow beyond its current capacities.
South Valley Athletics (SVA) program director Tom Perkins saw the positives of the South Lane Park & Recreation District, stating that he’s passionate about giving youth a healthy outlet for their free time.
“The benefits of a parks and rec district is it would lay the foundation to put in place people who could organize and bring all of the entities in South Lane County that are offering programs for kids under one umbrella where it would be a functioning body that would oversee all the recreation and the parks,” Perkins said.
The South Lane Parks & Recreation District steering committee regarded Willamalane Parks and Recreation District in Springfield as a success story they wish to emulate. Willamalane community engagement director Kenny Weigandt said that the big takeaway of having a parks and recreation district in Springfield is that “we do not have to compete for funding with the City of Springfield for parks and recreation.”
“When there’s parks and recreation as part of a greater municipality, essentially parks and recreation is competing with police, fire, roads, essential services, and it’s really easy for parks to move down the list in terms of importance,” Weigandt said. “What we’ve found is that parks and rec is part of a thriving community. We offer so much in terms of wellness services; we offer so much in terms of access to nature, and without those things, it really impacts a lot of other things.”
The steering committee for the South Lane Parks & Recreation District “received a grant to employ Bob Keefer, senior consultant with Special Districts Association of Oregon, to guide the feasibility process and determine the viability of creating a recreation district.” Keefer is well known in the parks and recreation industry for his many decades of service, and he will be bestowing his knowledge and expertise upon the organizers in Cottage Grove because he gets to help smaller communities and continue working in the parks and recreation field.
“I was just excited about helping Cottage Grove and the South Lane community with investing in this opportunity and seeing what might come out,” Keefer said. “I think a strong parks and recreation district would make a difference in the quality of life and the consistency of the programs that could be offered. Yes, it costs money, but the return on their investment, I think it’d be very high down the road for them.”
At the Jan. 9 city council meeting, resolution 2125 passed with a vote of 5-2; the two who voted against it were mayor Candace Solesbee and councilor Mike Fleck.
Fleck was not opposed to this resolution in concept, but he had many questions that remained unanswered.
“The other elephant in the room as far as I can tell is that we have no facility in this discussion at all. This is the first ask of what has to be a bigger ask for whatever facilities we want to build down the road,” Fleck said, insinuating that the South Lane Parks & Recreation District steering committee would wind up coming back to city council to ask for funding for property to use.
He was also concerned that parks and recreation would become more of a priority for the City than trying to fix Cottage Grove’s streets.
“I’m having a really hard time supporting this when we have so many other potential things that, to me, are core to what we’re doing as a City,” Fleck said.
Solesbee agreed with Fleck, also citing that fixing the streets should be considered a priority over the parks and recreation district.
Despite some negative opinions, many people seem to see likely benefits if the South Lane Parks & Recreation District was to form.
“Having a healthy, thriving Parks & Recreation program in Cottage Grove is well overdue, and I think a place like Cottage Grove deserves to have something nice like that, something that’ll benefit all of us for generations,” Perkins said.