By JESSE BURKHARDT
It didn't look good on election night. But with Washington's odd system of waiting for votes to drift in for days after Election Day, supporters of the Mount Adams Park & Recreation District said they remained positive despite trailing by 153 votes after initial returns were tabulated on Nov. 2.
"There were still a lot of votes out there," said Bill Ward, a White Salmon resident and one of the organizers of the district's formation committee. "We never did feel like it was a dead loss, but it scared us."
By Monday, when almost all the votes had been received and counted, the ballot measure was passing by 52 votes, or 50.6 percent in favor to 49.4 percent opposed.
That's not the entire story, however. The accompanying measure that would levy a small tax to fund the park and recreation district was soundly rejected. So now, supporters of the district find themselves with a parks and recreation district and no clear way to fund it.
But that is not stopping supporters from celebrating.
"Western Klickitat, we have a district!" exclaimed Dana Scheffler, a leader of the formation committee and one of five elected to serve on the Mount Adams Park & Recreation District board.
Scheffler said he always expected a tough battle to gain approval.
"I had felt that the vote would be close, as this was a new way of looking at how we solve problems in our communities," he explained.
Ward said organizers of the effort to set up the district were now looking forward.
"As of Jan. 1, we'll have five commissioners in place and have a district. We wish it would have been more votes, but we got it," said Ward. "Now we have to figure out how to run a district with no money readily available. But now we have a framework to solicit funds, one way or another."
Ward added that he was not surprised the tax levy measure was rejected.
"We can all understand the levy situation. I'm still amazed at the number of votes we got for a levy. It was pretty favorable even though it lost," Ward said. "We sure appreciate all the support from people favorable toward us."
"As a taxpayer I respect people's decision not to vote for more taxes, especially right now. I can understand that," added Scheffler. "The levy didn't pass, but more than 1,800 people voted for it. That's a lot of people willing to show their support with their wallet. Without funding, I don't think people are expecting miracles, but I do think that the district commissioners can show that we are still going to accomplish goals that will improve the quality of life for those living within the district."
Scheffler said there were two primary reasons why financial support is vital to the district.
One, because granting agencies would see that the community had stepped up to share some of the financial burden of the various community enhancements being sought by the district, which is key in gaining funding; and two, because it would pay for some minimal office help.
"Given that the commissioners have families and full-time jobs, it will be a challenge for them to hold meetings to guide the decisions of the district and then try to execute on those ideas without paid office support," Scheffler pointed out. "In light of that, one course of action may be to seek private donations to replace the missing tax money to move forward with office support."