Create a Park District to raise more money for Seattle Parks? Council approval today means you’ll vote in August

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

A month and a half after Mayor Murray came to Hiawatha Community Center to announce the proposal to create a Park District to raise extra money for Seattle Parks and Recreation in the years ahead, it’s ballot-bound.

That’s because, during their meeting this afternoon (archived Seattle Channel video above), the City Council voted unanimously (8-0, with West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen absent) to send it to voters.

This will replace – now and into the future – the more-recent pattern of sending ballot measures to voters every few years, levy or bond, to raise extra money for Parks. Most recent one was the five-year Parks and Green Spaces Levy approved in 2008. It was set to raise $146 million over six years, ending this year. Before that, the Pro Parks Levy approved by voters in 2000 raised $198 million over eight years.

But this time around, city leaders decided to go for a permanent way to raise extra money, instead of a fixed-term levy. The Park District would be accountable to the City Council, sitting as its board, but would have its own taxing authority. As laid out in this memo, councilmembers want the Park District to raise about $48 million a year for the first six years, 11 percent less than the $54 million the mayor had suggested. So what about the money Parks gets from the city budget now? According to the mayor’s website: “The City will continue to use City revenues to fund Parks and will continue to allocate a minimum of $89 million per year of General Fund revenues (2014 level of funding) to support Parks’ services and facilities unless the City Council by a three-fourths vote determines that a natural disaster or exigent economic circumstances prevent the Council from maintaining this level of General Fund support.”

Meantime, here’s the bill councilmembers passed to ask voters whether they will approve creation of the Park District.

In public comment before the vote, they heard from several critics who expressed concerns about accountability and about the fact that unlike the levies, citizens won’t be voting on how much they will be taxed – they will be instead voting to give the Park District taxing authority. One critic suggested few citizens had heard about this and accused the council of being “in an insulated bubble.”

Councilmembers disagreed with that. They also said an “interlocal agreement” between the city and the proposed district – set up in a second bill they passed today – would increase accountability.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the Parks and Neighborhoods Committee, said it would help solve the problem of Parks’ huge unfunded maintenance backlog, estimated at more than $260 million, because 60 percent of the money raised would be spent on that. She said that over three years of trying to figure out what’s next for Parks funding, she had looked at and listened to thousands of comments.

Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant both acknowledged the Park District proposal wasn’t perfect, but considered it to be acceptable.

Councilmember Sally Clark described it as a tool to be used “without the council going all evil and using it for unintended purposes.”

Mayor Murray said in his announcement last month that the Park District would be able to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The slightly larger funding package he was supporting at the time would have used about 42 cents of that authority, so the one the council is supporting would be a few cents less than that. After today’s council vote, he issued a statement saying the principles of his proposal “remain intact.” The mayor’s website has Q/A with more details on how the district would work.

If you’re a Seattle voter, you will be part of the final decision in the August 5th election.

26 Replies to "Create a Park District to raise more money for Seattle Parks? Council approval today means you'll vote in August"

  • joel April 28, 2014 (8:24 pm)

    why can’t we have one election to vote on all the tax increases at once…..? combine this one with the upcoming property tax increase for transit. if the city, county ect have no money then whey don’t they combine elections and save money on mailing costs, ballots, campaigning, result tallies etc?

  • A April 28, 2014 (8:51 pm)

    Vote no on any tax increases. Every ballot is just ‘more, more, more’ Govt needs to operate like the average household for a while – BUDGET YOUR $$$!

  • trevor April 28, 2014 (9:10 pm)

    Hey Nick Licata how much tax revenue would the Sonics raised the last few years? Oh that’s right how quick we forget.

  • bolo April 28, 2014 (10:18 pm)

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that, trevor.
    Economists that studied metropolitan income generation by sports teams have found a lack of correlation historically.

    “The economists looked at per-capita income data from metropolitan areas that were home to striking (or locked out) sports teams. They found that even when ticket sales stopped, average income in a city didn’t change. At all. “Work stoppages in baseball and football have never had significant impacts on local economies,” they wrote. As icing on the cake, they looked at NBA cities that had lost their teams and found the same thing: bupkis. “The departure of a franchise in any sport, particularly in basketball, has never significantly lowered real per capita personal income in a metropolitan area,” Humphreys and Coates wrote.”


  • Mike April 28, 2014 (11:29 pm)

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that, bolo.
    1 game this year brought NY $300,000,000 and it was not even hosted IN New York.

  • Brian April 29, 2014 (6:13 am)

    @Joel: Well, for one thing, if you put every tax increase on a single ballot then literally none of them would pass because no one is going to vote “yes” for two or three tax increases at a time.

  • anonyme April 29, 2014 (6:27 am)

    As a low income home owner, I’m really tired of having all new taxes be added to either property tax or sales tax. Both of these disproportionately affect those with lower incomes. It’s high time we eased back on both, and imposed an income tax instead. Oh, and let Boeing pay a few bucks for a change.

  • JK April 29, 2014 (6:49 am)

    Hi A,

    Tracy noted that we have been renewing levies every few years to fund the parks. This is not an increase per se, but a permanent funding structure in lieu of having to vote over and over. In a sense, this is the City trying to BUDGET THEIR $$$ with a more stable source.

  • KT April 29, 2014 (6:58 am)

    Seattle Center and Community Centers…1999, 8 yrs, $72 million
    Parks for All…2000, 8 yrs, $198 million – 2008, 6 years, $146 million
    Low-Income Housing…2002, 7 yrs, $86 million – 2009, 7 yrs, $145 million
    Families and Education…2004, 7 yrs, $117 million – 2011, 7 yrs, $231 mil
    Fire and Facilities…2004, 9 yrs, $167 million
    Bridging the Gap…2006, 9 yrs, $365 million – 2006, 9 yrs, $365 million
    Pike Place Market…2008, 6 yrs, $73 million
    Libraries for All…2012, 7 yrs, $123 million
    Seawall…2012, 30 yrs, $290 million

    This is the best list I could come up with for property tax levies since 1999. Truly amazing. I have now emailed the Mayor’s Office twice to find out how much the existing levies add to my property tax bill. Ignored. City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she agreed that additional property taxes placed a burden on middle-income residents when the “superwealthy and big business” should be paying a larger share. But for all her handwringing about the middle class, she still is in favor. Because someone owns property in Seattle does not mean they are rich. Consider for a minute the fact that many property owners of average means purchased property in Seattle before the prices rose to the ridiculous levels they are today. So sure, on paper they own a high priced house and to the less insightful, they must be rich. Property taxes on that high priced house are continually rising (that would be an interesting study in itself) hurting people of average means. The Seattle City Council is killing the middle class. So when the middle class is no longer around to pile onto, what are they going to do then?

    The usual response by City Council members is to say something patronizing like Seattle voters are generous or they want a better city. Generally true. But when are you taking advantage of the voter’s nature? When is in fact is it enough?

    • WSB April 29, 2014 (7:45 am)

      City levies are not the only things affecting your property tax. Since Prop 1 kindled something of a larger discussion along these lines, I’ve been looking around to find out exactly how your taxes break down. Via the King County Parcel Viewer – which we use daily to research property for other things, like ownership, you can find out some of that (maybe more, I haven’t gotten around all the nooks and crannies). You start here to get the customized report for your parcel:
      If you choose “property detail” the resulting page includes a pie chart breaking down the general services funded by the property tax you pay (city, county, state shares, and then there’s one when you choose “property tax bill” (and from that screen, you have to click a button by the spot where your parcel number is auto-entered).
      It has a table and pie chart too. For example, ours (the tax on an old, un-remodeled warbox on a smallish lot) breaks out to:
      State $689.25 22.1%
      Local School $711.26 22.8%
      County $422.98 13.6%
      City $850.49 27.3%
      Road $0.00 0.0%
      Port $60.08 1.9%
      Ferry $0.97 0.0%
      Fire $0.00 0.0%
      Hospital $0.00 0.0%
      Flood $42.88 1.4%
      Library $0.00 0.0%
      EMS $93.47 3.0%
      Other $0.00 0.0%
      Fees & Charges $242.15 7.8%
      BUT this still isn’t entirely representative or granular. It doesn’t break “city” down to things like the parks levy, the families/education levy, etc. The county has standalone levies too. I’m still looking around for the granularity on that. But it’s a start to understanding where the money goes.

  • Anne April 29, 2014 (7:33 am)

    KT- yours is one of the most insightful, informative & to the point comment I have read. Absolutely agree with you.

  • DTK April 29, 2014 (8:13 am)

    How are we supposed to afford recreational marijuana?

  • old timer April 29, 2014 (9:08 am)

    Let’s see. The keys to the money pot will be held by folks accountable only to the city council, which itself is going off into a new composition with their positions elected by area?
    I don’t think so.

  • Rob April 29, 2014 (12:20 pm)

    If this passes the people will loose any kind of control over parks spending CC will be able to raise our taxes again with out any vote from us

  • Susan April 29, 2014 (12:58 pm)

    If this passes my 91 year old grandmother will have to move from the only house she’s ever known. Her fixed income cant be stretched anymore and I cant afford to help her. What happened to a livable Seattle.

    • WSB April 29, 2014 (1:02 pm)

      Susan – does your grandma take advantage of the property-tax exemptions? I don’t know all the details and didn’t even know about them until I started looking up the aforementioned information about how levies affect your property tax bill, but there are exemptions of some kind for seniors/low income (seniors being defined as 61 and up!). Maybe that will help. The King County Assessor’s Office could tell you more – TR

  • James April 29, 2014 (1:49 pm)


    I applied for this for my 92 year old father who has since passed away. When I applied for the exemption for him based on his income (long term care and medical expenses get to be counted in lowering the individuals income) I was also to apply going three years back. So not only were his property taxes reduced going forward, he got a partial refund on the previous three years. I know from personal experience watching my dad how worrying it can be to be on a fixed income.

    I know, at least in Kitsap County, there was a property tax deferrment program for those who made too much to qualify for an exemption but were still somewhat lower income seniors. They can remain in their homes, and not have to pay the majority of their annual tax bill. The tax bill is collected once the home is sold. This could be another option that might work for your grandmother.

    Luckily there are programs such as the property tax exemptions, targeted services for seniors, and other social programs that are available that are funded by people who will not now need the service, but might need it at a later time. My dad served in WWII, and if he had lived a few years longer and further depleted his assets he would have been eligible for Veteran’s benefits related to his long term care expenses.

    I wish you and your family luck in helping your grandmother. I know it is difficult, but also very well worth it to give back the care and comfort to a loved one that you received when you were younger.

  • James April 29, 2014 (2:06 pm)

    From King County Assessor’s website (Keep in mind that there are some expenses, such as medical and long term care expenses) that can be deducted from the overall income:

    If your income is $30,000 or less, a portion of the regular levy amount may be exempt.
    Qualifying Income Brackets
    $30,001 – $35,000
    Exempted from all excess levies and no reduction to assessed value.
    $25,001 – $30,000
    Exempted from regular tax levies on the first $50,000 of assessed value or 35%, whichever is greater, to a maximum limit of $70,000 and exempt from all excess levies.
    $25,000 or less
    Exempt from regular tax levies on the first $60,000 or 60% of assessed value, whichever is greater, and exempt from all excess levies.

  • Mike D. April 29, 2014 (3:21 pm)

    Another round of applause for the posting by KT. The last item on the list KT generated is the real shocker for me. I still can’t believe the tax payers voted in favor of it the way it was structured, and who really stands to be the primary beneficiary of the public largess being poured into the Seawall and Waterfront.

    I am not some anti-tax crank, but I would really appreciate it if instead of beautyfying certain select areas of the city, that ALL of the long neglected areas of city be brought up to basic standards before anymore glamour projects are funded. I am talking about rebuilding crummy and crumbling streets, and installing sidewalks, curbs and planting strips on the many streets without, and rengineering the streets that have no drainage and routinely flood.

  • let them swim April 29, 2014 (3:37 pm)

    You forgot Port of Seattle Tax for Home-owners,
    Which I think is corrupt as hell.

    • WSB April 29, 2014 (3:41 pm)

      No, take another look, the port is in the list in my comment, which was a direct cut-and-paste from my online property-tax bill. I’ve obtained a little bit more info from the County Assessor’s Office today but it still doesn’t directly say “X Levy X dollars, Y levy Y dollars,” I’ll have to do some translating before it would be an interesting breakout story, working on it!

  • West Seattle Hipster April 29, 2014 (5:31 pm)

    I would be very interested in seeing a detailed breakdown on the $260,000,000 “unfunded maintenance backlog”. What could they possible need all of those taxpayer dollars for?


    I am also concerned about Mayor Murray’s backing of this plan, considering his husband Michael Shiosaki is director of planning and development for the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.


    I am also disappointed in Kshama Sawant’s backing of this plan. It is ironic that she wants to raise the minimum wage, only to see more of those wages be taxed.

  • let them swim April 29, 2014 (6:31 pm)

    My apolgies.
    I missed that.
    I should have known better!!!

  • Roxy April 30, 2014 (8:40 am)

    If you’ve not checked with the utilities about reduced rates please do. The City also has a minor home repair program for seniors which can be helpful in keeping the home in a safe condition.

  • redblack May 1, 2014 (4:41 am)

    Mike D: the seawall isn’t just a beautification project. it keeps downtown – and the viaduct – from sliding into elliott bay.

  • let them swim May 2, 2014 (4:17 pm)

    @redblack, if you believe that —-I’ve got ocean front property in ARIZONA for sale.

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