Stumped on that final holiday gift? There's always irrigation equipment, a doggie drink station or a portable outdoor movie screen — just a few of the items on the Mercer...

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Stumped on that final holiday gift? There’s always irrigation equipment, a doggie drink station or a portable outdoor movie screen — just a few of the items on the Mercer Island Parks Department’s wish list that can be donated in someone’s name.


The city long has benefited from the largess of residents and businesses to enhance its parks and recreation offerings, from donated bleachers to event sponsorships. Most recently, an island resident came forward with an $8,000 donation designated for Luther Burbank Park, said Nancy Woo, the Parks Department’s special-events coordinator.


But as city expenses grow and budgets tighten throughout the region, Mercer Island and other small cities are following in the footsteps of Bellevue, Seattle and larger cities around the nation and teaming with nonprofit groups that can provide donors tax deductions for parks-related donations.


The arrangement also enables governments to apply for grants available only to nonprofits.


Such public/private partnerships make park needs better known and encourage more folks to help their communities with gifts of time, cash, materials and property, said Kristen Bush, executive director of the Northwest Parks Foundation, the nonprofit group working with Mercer Island. “I think it works really well because donors want the parks around their homes to be improved and give a beautiful place to go,” Bush said. “It’s very enticing for people to get a tax deduction and also improve their neighborhood.”


Many small cities lack the staff, time, money or expertise to manage their own charitable foundations, Bush said. At the same time, she said, when cities run into budget trouble, parks, recreation and cultural funding often are among the first cuts.


Roughly 17 government entities — including the cities of Woodinville and Poulsbo, Kitsap County — have formed agreements with the foundation, or are in the process of doing so. The foundation, which formed in 2002 to help cash-strapped King County parks remain open, has since expanded its outreach to encompass present and future parks throughout the region. The foundation typically charges donation recipients a handling fee of about 5 percent.














Giving to city parks


Many smaller cities are teaming with nonprofit groups to provide residents a way to support the community and receive a tax deduction. To donate, contact your community’s parks department. Here are examples from the wish lists of two cities:


Mercer Island: Cut ivy out of a tree: $30 per tree. Picnic table: $400-$2,000. Doggie drink station: $2,000. Ballfield scoreboards: $20,000.


Woodinville: Red brick with child’s name: $45. Small sculpture: $1,000 to $3,000. Performing arts/concert series sponsorship: $7,500 to $15,000.


Sources: Cities of Mercer Island and Woodinville



The ability to offer tax deductions for land, equipment, art and other donations could help attract more donors, said Brenda Eriksen, an administrative assistant with Woodinville’s Parks Department.


“A lot of people, when they do big legacy gifts or big donations, want to write it off,” she said.


Mercer Island, which boasts more than 450 acres of parkland, had its own recreation foundation years ago, Woo said. But the city found it cumbersome to manage the account with its many tax questions.


This new public/private partnership “is a godsend,” she said. The city’s biennial budget, adopted earlier this month, reduces seasonal park staffing to help eliminate an expected deficit.


“It really makes it hard for us to cover all our bases as far as maintaining and preserving all the parks and facilities on the island,” Woo said. “We’re seeking private donations to help us in that effort.”


Earlier this month, the city’s parks department mailed a catalog to potential donors that lists dozens of items, projects and programs, and their estimated costs.


Bellevue has worked with nonprofit parks organizations such as the Trust for Public Land and the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society, said Lorrie Peterson, a program manager with the city’s Parks Department who facilitates land acquisitions.


Sizable property donations over the years resulted in the city’s botanical garden and Chism Beach Park, among others.


“We’ve been out there with the community working with community residents who have a keen desire to give back,” Peterson said.


Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com