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Kitsap Parks wants $500 per 4-H dog training meeting at Fairgrounds

Marion Bond spent the past 15 years working with Kitsap 4-H’s dog training programs, which have operated for free at the Presidents’ Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

But on Jan. 11, Bond received an e-mail from the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department, informing the group it would be required to pay $500 per meeting to continue holding its training sessions inside the hall.

It included an option for 4-H to continue using for free some of the smaller facilities at the fairgrounds, such as the barns.

Bond said the barns are inadequate.

“They’ve been saying for years there might be change but there’s really been no discussion,” she said. “My biggest issue is that nobody will be in the building on Monday if we are not there. All we are using are the lights.”

The new price to use the property highlights a conflict between nonprofits, which sometimes rely on government resources to serve the public, and cash-strapped governments which are looking for ways to stave off further cuts.

Elizabeth Ratliff, administrative services supervisor with the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department, said it makes no sense to let groups use for free its premium facilities, the Presidents’ Hall and the Pavilion, especially with the county’s weak budget situation. Additionally, the county has offered the group a 50 percent discount.

She said the group does not pay for utilities, though Bond said 4-H was willing to pay electricity costs.

Bond said the barns at the fairgrounds are too small for the dog training programs, and she is worried about the potential health hazards of children and pets spending so much time around livestock and other animals.

Bond said 4-H’s popularity has increased with the recession because at $20 a year for a membership, the organization provides relatively cheap activities.

“If they shut us down, they are going to affect the families that can’t afford other programs, like sports programs,” she said.

She said the group regularly attracts 70 to 80 people per meeting, but Ratliff said the group said it wrote on its annual rental application that 20 to 30 people attend the dog training programs.

Public use of the hall regularly costs $1,000, but 4-H would pay $500 because it is a nonprofit organization and provides educational opportunities, Ratliff said. Large-scale county gatherings, such as Monday’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, are the only events which can now operate for free in the Pavilion or Presidents’ Hall.

Washington State University Kitsap County Extension and 4-H are the largest groups that use the Hall or Pavilion for free, Ratliff said.

Bond said she understood the difficulty the county faces with budget cuts, but that the new costs are too much of a burden.

“We are all volunteers so it’s too much to ask us to pay out-of-pocket,” she said.

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