SEASIDE — “Out-of-district” fees for the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District may be a thing of the past, if an attempt to annex Cannon Beach and Gearhart into the district is successful.

The district board gave District Director Mary Blake the go-ahead Wednesday to pursue annexation of the two cities.

If residents gather enough signatures on petitions or if city officials initiate the action by placing the question on the ballot, voters could decide on the proposal in November’s general election.

With annexation, property owners would pay a maximum of 92 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, the same paid by properties currently in the district. The total paid on a property assessed at $300,000 would be $276.

The district’s current boundaries generally follow the Seaside School District boundaries but exclude Gearhart and most of Cannon Beach, except for small portions in the north part of town and the Hillside Heights area southeast of U.S. Highway 101. Part of Arch Cape also is in the district.

The annexation could generate $1.1 million for the district, including $700,000 from Cannon Beach and $400,000 from Gearhart, Blake said before Wednesday’s meeting.

In return for their taxes, the cities could ask the district to conduct local programs, maintain area parks or provide recreational facilities for residents of the towns.

Some Gearhart residents have already begun talking to Blake about circulating petitions, she said. The Cannon Beach City Council also may be interested in joining the district after partnering with it to conduct a summer day camp for local and visiting youngsters for the past three years.

Blake noted that, while speaking at a recent council meeting, she was asked by Mayor Mike Morgan to start a seniors program for Cannon Beach.

Board members agreed with Blake that it was time to seek annexation of the two cities.

“Go for it,” directed board member George Stacey.

Some of the new tax money might be used to complete the development of the Broadway Park ball field. At least $600,000 is needed to install artificial turf and create a baseball, football and soccer field and install lighting and drainage, revamp the parking lot, build security fencing and construct a path around the field that ties it together with the rest of the park.

The city of Seaside developed the $1.6 million Broadway Park master plan in 2006. The city received donations from several sources, including the Weyerhaeuser and Autzen foundations and Seaside Kids, Inc., as well as an interest-free loan for part of the development from TLC Federal Credit Union.

Seaside Kids launched its own fundraising efforts to complete the park about a year ago, and officials said recently that they hoped to begin construction on the ball field this spring, even though they need $300,000 just to renovate the field and install the lights.

Blake noted that both Gearhart and Cannon Beach have “endorsed” the Broadway Park development and that children from both communities will play on the ball field because the school district and Seaside Kids use it.

In addition, she said, the new fields are expected to attract sports associations from outside the area to Seaside for tournaments, which Blake said, would boost the area’s economy.

The park and recreation district has been unable to use the park or the ball field in the past for its programs because of an intergovernmental agreement between the school district and the city, but if the annexation is approved, Blake said she thought that might change.

Blake admitted that getting voter approval for annexation “is not going to be an easy path.”

“But we have been having the conversation for the last 26 years,” since she became the district’s director.

A majority of those responding to a district survey in 2009 said they would support annexation to the district, depending on the programs and facilities provided in their areas, Blake said.

Those who are in the district pay less in fees to participate in district programs because they also pay property taxes. “Out-of-district” fees are charged to those who live outside of the boundaries.

In-district fees for open swim sessions, for instance, are 50 cents for individuals, but those outside the district pay $2.50. Annual fees for swim and gym usage for in-district residents are $250, while out-of-district residents pay $375.

The district also offers a program for nonresidents to qualify for residents’ fees. Other programs to reduce fees are available, as well as scholarships.

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