A plan to let voters decide on an independent recreation district for Ontario in November leaped forward Wednesday after the county court verified the required number of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot had been collected. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – The Malheur County Court confirmed Wednesday it will move forward with a plan to place a ballot measure for an independent recreation district in Ontario before voters in November.
Mary Jo Evers, the Ontario woman spearheading the effort, collected 1,280 verified signatures – 30 more than required.
Evers, who is the finance director of the Ontario School District, became involved after she learned Ontario budget woes meant elimination of the city recreation department. The city agreed to fund the department – which fields a variety of sports teams for area youth – until December.
In May, Evers asked the court to place an initiative on the November ballot to create the new government to operate the recreation department with a new property tax. She sought the court’s intervention because the deadline to place the measure by petition had passed.
Initially the court was lukewarm to the idea and wished to see if the city’s 1 percent sales tax proposal passed. The sales tax proposal was defeated by voters May 15.
The court then agreed to place a measure on the November ballot but only if Evers collected 1,250 signatures of support from Ontario voters by June 13.
“She lived up to her end of the bargain,” said Dan Joyce, county judge Wednesday morning.
The next step will be a public hearing June 20 at the courthouse to set the boundaries of the proposed district. Evers has suggested that boundaries be the same as the Ontario School District. If the district boundaries are approved June 20, a second hearing will be convened July 11. If the county court approves the recreation district boundaries at the second hearing, voters will get to vote on it Nov. 6.
The proposed tax rate for the district is 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value beginning in 2019. The preliminary recreation district budget would be nearly $680,000 the first year. Evers said previously the cost to run the district for one year stands at $123,720. The other money would be used to repair and open the aquatics center, said Evers. Evers said once the pool is open, the cost for taxpayers could drop.
Evers said several other steps will need to be covered in the future.
For example, said Evers, the city funding for the recreation district ends in December. If voters approve the district there will be about a six-month gap – from Jan. 1 to July 1 2019 – where no funding will be available for the district.
“So that is a challenge but I am working on some grant opportunities,” said Evers.
Evers said the district will need about $45,000 between the start of the year and July 1.
Evers also said if the measure gains voter approval a five-member board will need to be selected.
Evers, who is on vacation this week, said when she returns to Ontario she will begin work to set up a political action committee to help raise funds for the district.
Evers said she was pleased with the successful signature effort.
“Now we need to get out and educate people,” said Evers.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.