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June 30, 2007

Park Levies – The Need to Vote on Basic Services

There are two Park levies on the King County ballot in August that should be no-brainers to get passed.  They shouldn’t be on the ballot, in my mind, but there you go, we have to vote to charge ourselves a tiny bit of money for them, maybe $20 a year per family in increased property taxes, something like that, in order to have a decent park system in this county.  This is something that counties did as a matter of course twenty years ago.   

So, Prop. 1 is a renewal of the current levy.  It raises money to pay for 60% of the maintenance for the King County park systems – the 135 or so ballparks, the 180 parks/over 25,000 acres.  And 175 miles of regional hiking and biking trails.  East Lake Sammamish, parts of Cougar Mountain, Marymoor, the Aquatic Center in Kent.  The list goes on and on. 

This levy was put on the ballot by a vote of 9-0 by the KC Council. 

I sat down with Sandeep Kaushik, who is directing the campaign for the parks levy to talk about these two propositions and to get a better understanding of why the voters are being asked to fund basic county services.

First, I have to note, I have found that Sandeep is always on the right side of any issue, so it was clear from the get-go that these propositions are worth getting passed.   Sandeep helped out on the anti I-933 measure (“property rights”) and the anti I-920 (repeal the estate tax) measures.    

Why This Funky Way of Funding Parks?

“What gives?” I ask Sandeep. “Why are these on the ballot?  Why are we taxing people extra for services that should be a given?” 

He tells me that more than 70% of the KC budget goes to criminal justice.  That includes police, the court system and jails.  That leaves only 30% for all the rest.  That’s payroll for the municipal employees, libraries.  We still have libraries, don’t we? 

It’s a modest amount of money and is critically needed.  If the levy were to fail, we would be back into full crisis mode.  In 2002 and 2003, the county cut the budget by one-third and deferred maintenance on everything.  In total, the county cut the budget by 135 million over four years, streamlined from 14 departments to 7, and reduced the number of employees by 500. 

More recently, the budget has stabilized but there is no discretionary spending.  And there is this set of truly non-discretionary spending, about sixteen million a year, for things like maintaining the parks, and just keeping them open!  The needed money cannot come from any other place in the budget, not the sheriff’s office or the court system. 

A Citizen’s Group Pulls Together the Pieces

Back in 2002 and 2003, the county kicked the issue to a citizen’s group, the Metropolitan Parks Task Force, to see what they could come up with.  The group decided to take it to the voters and ask that property owners be assessed a very modest 4.9 cents per $1000 of assessed home value to be used to restore the basic maintenance of the parks.  A home assessed at $400,000 pays $20 per year.

Prop 1 just continues that previous 6-year levy for another 6 years: there are no new costs.

Prop 2 is for the Open Space Acquisition. 

Last year, the county reconvened another citizen task force to look at the park system as it is now.  In a report issued this spring, this group was extremely pleased with what the parks folks had been able to do and the new directions they went in. 

The parks have done a great job of getting money from non-traditional sources.  One fifth of the parks budget now comes from entrepreneurial items, such as charging Cirque d’Soleil for their stay at Marymoor Park or getting Starbucks to fund a park with volunteer help in White Center.

But more is needed.  With the population growth, rising land costs and greater urban density, the task force suggested that we need to keep up with the demographic shifts. With more urban density comes a need for more accessible open space.

We have this great regional trail system but it is not connected up.  The proposition would add an additional 125 miles which, along with the existing 175 miles, would provide a total of 300 miles.

The task force suggested that this get put before the voters as well.  There is strong bi-partisan support.  The vote on the county council was 7-2.  Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert were the no votes.  An additional 5 cents per $1000 of assessed value per year provides funding to the county to do trail acquisition and acquire more open space for later use.  One-fifth goes to cities for funding their parks.  One fifth goes to the Woodland Park zoo to fund environmental and conservation education (not the parking garage).  All for another $20 per year.

Election Processes

Both propositions are on the ballot in August. Each appears separately on the ballot in August. If the operations and maintenance issue fails in August, it will appear again on the November ballot.  If the land acquisition levy fails, it will not be on the ballot again.

Both are important.  Consider this a public service announcement.

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 30, 2007 at 08:27 PM in Environment, Taking Action | Permalink

Comments

The accusition levy is one of many sources for open spaces. There are also many partners that are acquiring land such as Mountain to Sound Greenway and Cascade Land Conservancy and others. For a time as we deal with other issues such as flooding and transportation, we need to use money to solve these problems which have not had the positive improvements that our open space land acquisitions have had. In addition, I see a trend where so much is being put out on levies for extra taxes when we see money going to special interest groups, one million dollars of county taxes going to the Child Health Care project which should be a state project not a county one, and other studies being done which the federal government should be doing. I wonder if this is a county government or if they are taking over all government duties. It is time that the county focus on their duties and let the other levels of government do their duties. If they chose not to do their proper duties, than the citizens should hold those officials accountable.

Posted by: Kathy Lambert | Jul 1, 2007 3:23:25 PM

OT,
I just added you to my Blogroll.
Now on to Cujo's place.

Posted by: Bustednuckles | Jul 3, 2007 8:05:59 AM

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