Create a Seattle Park District? Days before ballots arrive, yes/no sides make their cases to Admiral Neighborhood Association

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When the August 5th ballot arrives in your mailbox next week, it will include one major issue for you to decide: How will the City of Seattle raise extra money for its park system from here on out?

In recent years, the city has done that by taking a levy/bond measure to the public every so often. The most recent one was the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy, which expires this year.

But what the city’s asking you to approve this time has no expiration date. If you approve Seattle Proposition 1, you’ll be voting to support creation of a permanent Park District with taxing authority – no further votes needed.

The Admiral Neighborhood Association spent most of its July meeting on a mini-forum about Proposition 1 – with some pointed questions, and responses.

Speaking for the Park District measure, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and former Parks Board member Terry Holme, who also appeared when the Delridge District Council had its own mini-forum in May (here’s our coverage with video). Speaking against it, Don Harper from Our Parks Forever.

Rasmussen began by noting that while he chairs the Transportation Committee now, he chaired the Parks Committee when the 2008 levy campaign was under way. He contended that even if the Park District is created, “the parks will still be Seattle parks, you’ll still have the same kind of control, it’s simply a way of raising funds specifically to be used for the Parks department.” And he pointed out that the Council had created a Transportation Benefit District a few years ago, in the same vein. “In order to not be so limited, we are needing to create special taxing districts for what we used to be able to pay for out of our regular city budget.”

Holme, who’s been on the Parks Board for nine years, said the taxing rate envisioned for the Park District is only slightly higher than the current levy – $4 more if you have a house with a $400,000 valuation. He also was on the committee that reviewed options for finding extra funding once Parks and Green Spaces expired – the Legacy Committee – and said its members preferred creating the Park District instead of sending voters another levy.

According to Holme, every six years, a citizen committee will review the progress and set priorities for the years ahead, as set up in the “interlocal agreement” that is proposed as part of this (explained in the FAQ on Mayor Murray’s webpage about the proposal). That would ensure citizen participation and accountability, he contended.

Harper then gave his introduction, including his background with the Queen Anne Community Council, whose parks committee he chairs, and time on the city’s Levy Oversight Committee.

Levies are preferable, he said, because “you get to vote on levies – you get to look at the projects you’re getting … they are named projects ..there’ll be a dollar number assigned to them … so when you vote for them, you now you’re going to get them. and you’re part of the process of what’s going to go into them.” Voting on a levy, he suggested, also represents your review/opinion of how the city handled your money last time around.

Though Park District supporters are circulating a list of priority projects, Harper said, that’s not what voters are voting on – instead, he said, they’re voting for the district name, its boundaries (the Seattle city limits), who’s going to be on its board (the Seattle City Council), and its potential tax rate, which would raise about $100 million a year. “I don’t see why the council and mayor are so hellbent on taking away your right to vote,” Harper said. Observing that supporters have emphasized that a major plan for the first six years is to rustle up money for park maintenance, he said, “When Parks asked for more maintenance money, who didn’t give it to them? The city council and the mayor.” He wrapped up by saying it’s a matter of control – if you don’t mind just handing over some money from hereon out, this measure is fine, but “if you want to maintain some control,” creating a new taxing district is not the way to do that.

After both sides’ opening statements, ANA president David Whiting opened the discussion to Q/A.

Rasmussen stressed that creating a Park District would guarantee a permanent source of extra park funding, contending it’s not a given that the council would just keep sending levies to voters instead. He said the Parks and Green Spaces Levy almost didn’t happen, that its predecessor was expiring and that then-Mayor Greg Nickels didn’t want another park levy “so we almost didn’t have one.” (Here’s our coverage from 2008, when the council sent the levy to voters though the mayor had wanted to delay it at least two years.)

He also urged faith in the “interlocal agreement” that will govern how the money is spent, saying the city has many of them already. Ultimately, he said, councilmembers will be accountable, and if citizens don’t like the decisions they make with the Park District (or anything else), “vote us out of office.”

Harper at that point called attention to how other park districts are run, with their own elected boards – Tacoma, for example. He said he’s concerned that “the Council has so much else to worry about, how are they going to be able to concentrate on parks?” He also voiced concern that the only “named projects” are “landbanked sites” and Woodland Park Zoo. And then he said he has confidence that city leaders have “a Plan B if this gets voted down – there WILL be a levy, we WILL move forward, and we’ll move forward with our park system.”

Regarding concerns that somehow this will pave the way for city budget money that used to go toward parks instead getting “supplanted,” moved to something else, Holme pointed to the Intralocal Agreement, which will stipulate that Parks funding in the budget’s General Fund remains at least at its current level, $89 million.

Other questions/concerns voiced by ANA attendees included whether the upcoming changes in the council’s makeup – with all but two members elected by district starting next year – would affect the way the councilmembers planned to manage the potential Park District. Holme said he felt confident that the “public process … baked into this” would work. And he reiterated that the first list of priorities for the money included “major maintenance,” unlike the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, which was tilted more toward acquisition.

Harper said he was bothered by the fact that the general-fund money for Parks isn’t enough to maintain them – “Where is the $135 million [annual budget] going?” He said that while “(Rasmussen) is a good guy, what happens when it’s a different councilmember different mayor – this is ‘forever’.” Perhaps the Park system should be audited, he suggested. “We’re rushing into this.”

Rasmussen then described the audit suggestion as “a typical anti-government kind of response.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Harper protested that he hadn’t had as much of a chance to answer questions as the two Park District supporters had; ANA members pointed out that the questions were asked more from a skeptical viewpoint, so his side was already represented.

What you’ll see on the ballot, including the pro/con arguments and rebuttals, is here. Background from the process that led up to the Park District proposal is here.

ALSO AT ANA: Councilmember Rasmussen mentioned that the 47th/Admiral signal long sought by ANA should be built within a year; he was told that SDOT had promised to return with a design update in June but hadn’t contacted them yet, so he’ll check on it … The group celebrated its achievement of 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, long in the works … The concession sales at the 4th of July Kids’ Parade afterparty at Hamilton Viewpoint were hailed as a success again, with $1,000 raised after expenses, up from about two-thirds of that last year … ANA is working on a wintertime event – Santa Claus and more – details to come, but save the date, December 7th … No August meeting, as is the case for most community councils.

13 Replies to "Create a Seattle Park District? Days before ballots arrive, yes/no sides make their cases to Admiral Neighborhood Association "

  • denise July 10, 2014 (7:48 pm)

    I am sorry. But given the transportation issues we have in this city. I no longer have any respect for Mr. Rasmussen. I will not support any of his recommendation s

  • Pete July 10, 2014 (8:05 pm)

    Several points to bring into clearer focus –
    – the ILA that is so often referred to can be changed by the MPD board at anytime
    – once the MPD is voted into place the voters cannot vote it out
    – the MPD can raise the taxing rate with no further vote of the citizens
    – it is stated that the bulk of the money will go to maintenance and this is not true as less than 50% will actually go to address the maintenance backlog
    – using Parks figures as to how big the maintenance backlog is that needs to be addressed based on current figures, inflation and future maintenance needs the amount needed will basically be the same as it is today

    I encourage voters to study and research this issue prior to August 5th when ballots are due. I encourage you to vote NO and keep our Parks under the citizens control and not the MPD that in reality you gave little control over.

  • jwright July 11, 2014 (12:57 am)

    Levies are a terrible way to fund a going concern (like Parks And Recreation) because the folks running things do not have consistent funding and so cannot plan. I realize being anti-government is in vogue, but I believe government is part of the solution and support the initiative.

  • blockedpunt July 11, 2014 (7:18 am)

    Wow, I just lost a lot of respect for Rasmussen with his glib response that any suggestion of accountability of taxpayer funds is somehow “anti-government”. I’ll be voting “no” on Prop 1 because I don’t want to secede any more direct taxing power to the goobers who run this city.

  • au July 11, 2014 (9:01 am)

    I will be voting NO on Prop 1. There is much information out there as to why this is a very bad idea. John Fox wrote a piece for real change Vol 21,NO.19 about the negative effects of Prop.1 that convinced me. It seems that this Prop will take away our ability to vote on park taxes plus some other negative effects.
    Please everybody before you make a decision research this Prop.

  • Marty July 11, 2014 (9:42 am)

    Another step toward taxing the %*#€ out of us. A big NO from me.

  • cAF July 11, 2014 (2:53 pm)

    Once an MPD is voted in, all power forever goes to City Councilmembers (current and future) – Hmm..Waterfront Mega Park or Alki Community Center who will get the money? hmm, looks like we’ve got a lot of good potential projects; we should double the MPD tax rate. hmm…this oversight committee is wasteful and just a pain the the behind; let’s abolish it.

    This could be a VERY expensive experiment. It’s a blank check for the City Council. Yes, all MPD taxes go to parks, but Council can choose to use the monies however they want within a very loose definition of “parks & recreation”. Will they choose pet projects that can WOW the rest of the world or put neighborhood parks and care of natural areas first? Hmmm… I’ve been hearing some talk about a sports and entertainment district in SoDo; under state law that could fit the definition of parks & recreation.

    Please do the research…. check on the facts… don’t just accept the campaign promises. Be sure to read #6.1 of the ILA that says they can decide not to do any of the things they’ve “promised” to do; they just have to tell us 180 days before they actually change their promises and poof, no more promises.

    The vote is the only real power we have and they want to take it away. I say we keep it and use it right now to send a clear signal that we endorse good government and the MPD just doesn’t pass the test.

  • parks need a haircut July 11, 2014 (9:11 pm)

    i am very OK with this Parks District concept. I trust interlocal agreements and the flexibility for funding they provide. That’s really what this is about – the funding mechanisms. I am no huge fan of Rasmussen, believe me. But on this, he is accurate.

    it seems some of the push back is from particular people who are just use to overseeing and spending our money. Must have been great while it lasted, but all things have their seasons. Especially parks, right? :)

    So, coming off years of a very heady spending spree for parks – and its been *great* for the city no question – but me thinks some protest too much because they simply have gotten use to their participation in the “government lite” citizens’ oversight of blowing the wad.

    It’s over guys. This is good. Though I think the six year reviews could be closer together, but interlocals often have wider review gaps. They are NOT without potential problems, but funding sources will not be one of them.

    Have no fear – a new citizen watchdog group will evolve and make sure all is done in the best interests of all and for the greatest good.


  • Charissa July 11, 2014 (9:44 pm)

    I am voting NO ON PROP 1. It is a blank check to zoo management that has proven irresponsible and unaccountable. If you need an example, just look at our poor elephants. I support our parks and zoo, but have zero confidence in zoo management and therefore will vote NO.

  • Pete July 12, 2014 (7:24 am)

    “Parks needs a haircut” make sure you read the language in this ILA. You just might change how you feel about putting so much trust in to them. The ease with which the terms of this ILA can be changed after the election is astonishing. I encourage anyone even remotely thinking about voting yes for the MPD to make absolutely sure you understand all of the ramifications your YES vote brings to the table of the MPD.

  • Park needs a haircut July 12, 2014 (9:26 am)

    I am still very much OK with a Park District good neighbors. Change is harder for some than others and there is no strategy without some risk.

    That is life in the big city.

    I would respectfully suggest that cAF and Pete and others who are informed and concerned establish an organized Park District Watchdog group to ensure your greatest fears do not come to pass. Your passion/cynicism is appreciated and would serve your community well.

  • Diane July 12, 2014 (1:35 pm)

    “Wow, I just lost a lot of respect for Rasmussen with his glib response that any suggestion of accountability of taxpayer funds is somehow “anti-government”. I’ll be voting “no” on Prop 1 because I don’t want to secede any more direct taxing power to the goobers who run this city.Comment by blockedpunt”
    agree; I was there, and was shocked; literally my jaw dropped open; and it was not just a glib statement; it was hostile, and he repeated 2-3 times; I was/am deeply offended; we have had many recent examples of poor city management that should cause all of us to require more accountability from city entities; for Tom to come to a neighborhood meeting and make hostile name-calling statement about citizens who dare to question how our money is being spent, very revealing; and all city council members are up for election very soon; keep that in mind
    oh, and the reason I went to this meeting, it’s my neighborhood, and I wanted to hear the complex pros/cons of Prop 1; I learned a lot, and will be voting NO; it’s not a vote against parks (which Prop 1 proponents keep saying); it’s a vote against this permanent taxing structure that will forever take away our chance to vote on how/what parks/community centers get funded by our tax dollars

  • Huh? July 12, 2014 (9:07 pm)

    How and why is a fence at an isolated park on Pigeon Point with very little use slated for replacement in the Parks District mapping system of slated projects, repairs or increased service hours? How do these little projects that in totality add up to big money get included? Me thinks this is back-slapping at its worse to try and glean support to the Parks District.

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