Group preparing to campaign for Foothills tax boost

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By Matt Gunn

Supporters of the Foothills Park and Recreation District are preparing to direct a positive campaign should the district seek a property tax increase in May.

The Friends of Foothills is currently a study group made up of district staff and members of the public. But its role could change in late February if the Foothills board of directors chooses to seek a mill-levy increase in this spring's election. At that point, the committee would be under the guidance of community members who support a boost in taxes to help the district maintain services and keep pace with the rising cost of utilities.

“We also want to let people know that Foothills is one of the main governmental units in our part of the county,” said Mary Pat Adams, the district's manager of marketing and community outreach. “We don't have cities, we don't have city services, so Foothills is part of the community values.”

The board will discuss moving forward with a mill-levy increase at its first meeting in February. It must approve a ballot measure by Feb. 26.

If the district moves forward, it will most likely settle on a 3-mill increase in the current 7.87-mill levy, which would represent about $2 a month in additional taxes for each $100,000 in a home's value. But the goal for Friends of Foothills is not simply to sell the tax increase on those numbers alone. The group is studying ways it can educate the community as to the value Foothills offers, and the programs and services that could be lost.

“One of the things that we talk about is, we're part of the community, and our whole purpose for being here is them,” Adams said.

If the district moves forward on a mill-levy increase, its staff, by law, cannot work on the campaign during regular business hours. That means members of the public that make up Friends of Foothills will have to take the lead in promoting the tax hike.

Chris Los, a resident whose family participates in Foothills programs, volunteered to help lead the group as the district turns it over to the public.

“I think that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the employees of this district to spearhead and start it,” Los said.

If a ballot question appears, the goal will be to relate the many positives members of the Friends of Foothills see to the general public.

“Everybody that's in this meeting obviously cares about this district and the direction that we're going in, the consequences of a successful mill levy and the consequences of a non-successful mill levy,” Los said.

Three significant goals the group has identified are fund-raising, communications and community outreach. The effort is more organized and visible than it was during the November 2006 election, when Foothills' proposed mill-levy increase was defeated by a narrow margin.

Lori Hoffner, chairman of the Foohills board of directors, recommended that the group interact face-to-face with voters. Hoffner will herself be term-limited off the board in May, and recommended a similar approach to any potential board candidates.

“It's that face-to-face conversation and actually handing them the literature that is important,” she said.

Contact Matt Gunn at matt@evergreenco.com.