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Countywide parks levy proposed

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

A citizens’ advisory group believes property owners should submit to a 5.5-cent, six-year levy to keep King County’s parks open and in good condition.

The Metropolitan Parks Task Force this week recommended a countywide levy election in May that, if approved by voters, would be “a judicious and conservative solution to a difficult fiscal situation,” said co-chairman Bob Wallace.

Unable to operate all of its recreation facilities in the face of a massive budget deficit in 2003, the county late last year transferred some of them to cities, including Federal Way, which took over Kenneth Jones Pool.

Financial difficulties remain, Wallace said, and “if we don’t pass this modest levy, a lot of county parks will close. I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest, and I don’t think that’s what the public wants.”

The levy would be assessed per $1,000 of assessed valuation of property. For homeowners, an additional $13.75 per year of tax would be added to a $250,000 home, for example. The levy would expire after six years.

A similar amount sought for the King County Regional Library System was rejected by voters in a countywide election Feb. 4. The system proposed 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to finance remodeling of some library branches and the construction of new ones.

The County Council would decide whether to place a parks levy on the ballot.

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, whose district includes Federal Way, said he needs to be sure the levy is the best possible solution and has voter support.

“I don’t want to just say we tried to do something. I want to get results,” he said.

The levy recommendation emerged from the task force’s review beginning last year of the parks system. Suggestions then included shifting ownership of some facilities to cities, higher user fees and selling advertising space at parks.

The task force, created by County Executive Ron Sims, reconvened last month to make more recommendations. After considering a metropolitan parks district, selling parks to generate revenue or closing some of them, the group settled on the proposed levy.

“We didn’t set out to see how we can embellish our parks or get more park land. We set out to take care of what we have,” Wallace said.

The levy would support regional facilities, such as the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way, Cougar Mountain Park and the regional trail system, and parks in rural areas. Parks in urban, unincorporated areas would be supported with other county funds, said Gene Duvernoy, co-chairman of the task force.

Despite saving “millions of dollars” in cost-cutting steps already taken, including a 35 percent reduction of the parks workforce, the county’s budget problem is “still severe,” Duvernoy said. Regional parks “are integral to our quality of life, and we believe the public would be willing to invest a small amount to protect the legacy that they represent.”

“No one expected the park system to pay for itself,” he added.

A public opinion poll and focus groups showed strong support for a levy that’s specific and affordable, according to the task force.

“It’s appropriate to ask the voters whether they are willing to pay less than $14 a year to maintain over 25,000 acres of park land,” Wallace said. “It’s a small investment for each of us to make that contributes tremendously to our quality of life and to our property values.”

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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