CAPRD Moving Forward with Plans to Shrink District in Hopes of Passing Tax Base

Government can be criticized for being too bloated and oversized, but one local entity — the Canby Area Parks and Recreation District, or CAPRD (often pronounced “CAP-erd”) — is actively trying to get smaller.

The district actually has a long history in our area — one that significantly predates what was once considered its geographical counterpart, the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District — but you could be forgiven for knowing little about it, or presuming it was one and the same with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. (It’s not.)

CAPRD is an independent special district, much like North Clackamas PRD, run by a board of directors whose seats appear on the ballot every four years. The problem is that it has no tax base, no levy, no funding source, no property and no real operations.

It’s like a baby: It has loads of potential, and nobody is necessarily trying to get rid of it or anything — but it just doesn’t really do much.

CAPRD was founded in 1964 as the South Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, and its main business — at least, in view of the public — over the past six decades has been changing its name: first to the Blue Heron Recreational District, and now, CAPRD.

Directors have tried at least a half-dozen times to pass a permanent tax rate to support parks development and programming, always to no avail.

The most recent attempt was in 2011, a proposed 42-cent per $1,000 assessed value that would have also replaced the levy for the Canby Swim Center that goes before voters for renewal every five years.

It failed, with more than 60% opposed. In hindsight, the timing may have been ill-advised, with the nation well into the early stages of a historic recession, but CAPRD officials say the margins of defeat have been pretty consistent in each election, regardless of economic factors.

The issue, officials believe, lies with CAPRD’s boundaries, which more or less mirror those of the Canby School District. The district is much larger and more politically conservative than the city, and deep dives into polling data have suggested a strong rural-urban split in CAPRD’s previous attempts to establish a tax base.

“In past elections, the voting indicated that the measure passed within the city limits of Canby, but it failed in the rest of the district,” City Administrator Scott Archer explained at a recent City Council meeting.

That has sparked the suggestion to shrink the district’s boundaries to match the city limits and urban growth boundary — an idea that is also not a particularly new one for CAPRD — but one that now appears to have some real traction.

CAPRD board member Andrew Hale appeared before the council on July 21 to explain the move and request the city’s support. The request — and letters of support for the redistricting — will go to the Board of County Commissioners, which can grant the downsizing outright or refer it to district voters.

“The timing looks really good for us, along with the fact that the city is also doing a master plan for parks,” Hale said. “Because CAPRD is a potential fund mechanism, we are one of the stakeholders in that process, so you know that we’re here, what our goals are and what we’re trying to support. So those things seem to all be aligning really well.”

While most councilors seemed to be in favor of the letter of support — with some minor tweaks to the wording — one decidedly was not.

“It’s no secret that I have never been a fan of CAPRD,” Council President Traci Hensley said. “Its history has been riddled with problems. I do think we take a beat, have a work session and educate the newer councilors on its history.

“I’m not a fan of another layer of government governing our park system, so I’m a hard ‘no’ on this. I would actually like to see that layer of government go away.”

Hensley clarified that it was nothing personal — she appreciated Hale and the other members who serve on CAPRD’s board — but the idea of two entities with identical boundaries (the city and CAPRD), both supporting parks and recreational activities, seemed redundant to her and other councilors shared this concern.

The fact that any tax support for CAPRD would still have to gain voter approval — regardless of the district’s size — seemed to assuage some of those concerns, and councilors ultimately voted 4-1 to support the move, with Hensley opposed and Councilor Jordan Tibbals absent.

Councilors did ask for a future work session to discuss CAPRD and what a working arrangement might look like. Hale said CAPRD hopes for the county to rule on their request by the end of this year.

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