ONTARIO – Supporters of an independent recreation district in Ontario are gearing up for a final push to convince voters to approve the plan.
City voters face a measure creating a district with the same boundaries as the Ontario School District. The new agency would come into existence in January and run on property taxes with a rate of 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
The district idea began as a grass-roots endeavor last spring spearheaded by Ontario resident Mary Jo Evers. Evers, who is the finance director for the school district, got involved after she learned budget woes meant the elimination of the city recreation department.
Evers said she is excited about what a recreation district would mean for Ontario residents.
“I hope people see what we are going to do and have faith we will actually do what we say we are going to do,” said Evers.
After budget hearings in the spring, the city agreed to run the recreation department, which fields a variety of sports teams for area youth, until December.
The Ontario City Council supports the new district and agreed to turn over key assets including the aquatics center, recreation district office, skate park, tennis courts and the splash pad.
The city plans to follow the same process with the recreation district that it did with the Ontario Library District in 2009. The city also vowed to help the district cover its costs with loans until the new government receives its property tax payments.
Voters also will choose five people to sit on the recreation district’s board of directors. Seven are on the ballot for those seats – Evers, Megan Cook, Robert J. Boyd, Toni Davila, Matt Mejia, Harvey Hatfield, Jr. and Melissa Wieland. No member of the city’s recreation advisory board filed to join the new organization.
Evers said the new district would make a difference.
“We will get the pool up and running within two years,” said Evers.
Evers established a political action committee – called Our Community Matters – to campaign for the measure.
Evers said her PAC has collected about $2,500. Evers said her effort attracted about 20 volunteers and the central question for residents is straightforward.
“Do you want a city that doesn’t have these things or one that does? And, if you do, put your faith in us because we’ll make it happen,” said Evers.
She said the campaign consists of banners, signs and a pamphlet answering frequently asked questions. There is also a web site, ontariorecdistrict.org.
Evers said she didn’t start the information outreach earlier because “timing is everything….I wanted to wait because I didn’t want people to get tired of hearing about it.”
The initial operating funds for the district pose a challenge.
The district needs about $10,000 for its first six months of operation, Evers said. Since the district will not collect any tax revenue until October, Evers said the district would cover the costs the first six months with either a grant or borrowing from the city.
After July 1, Evers said the district will most likely seek a credit line and borrow against the tax revenues that will start to roll in in October.
Evers said the district budget its first year of operation will be about $680,000.
The cost to run the district with one full-time employee for a year is projected to be $204,000, said Evers. The remaining money, she said, will be used to refurbish the aquatics center.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.