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Cheaper parks levy goes to May vote

Mirror staff

A shorter, less expensive levy to pay for King County’s parks is headed for a countywide vote this spring.

The Metropolitan County Council voted Monday to place a four-year, 4.9-cent measure on the May 20 ballot. If approved by voters, the revenue generated from property tax assessments would be used for operations and maintenance of the county’s regional and rural parks and recreation system, including the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

The council originally considered a 5-cent, six-year measure proposed by a citizens’ task force appointed by County Executive Ron Sims to study parks funding options for the cash-strapped county.

The additional tax would, for example, cost the owner of a $250,000 home $12.25 a year and would expire after four years. The assessment is per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds, chairwoman of the council’s Natural Resources, Parks and Open Space Committee, said county residents “deserve a say in the fate of the 25,000 acres of parks, trails and open space that play such an important role in their communities.”

Larry Phillips, who heads thecouncil’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, said the levy is unavoidable.

“When you do the math, it’s clear that we need this levy revenue” to keep parks and trails countywide “open and fully accessible to all county residents, including city dwellers who want to get outside and play.”

Last year, faced with a massive budget deficit, county officials warned that parks and other recreation facilities could close because of a lack of money to operate them. To partially offset the budget shortfall, the county transferred some facilities to cities within which they were located. Federal Way agreed to take over Kenneth Jones Pool.

With that accomplished, the county decided to focus its resources on regional facilities, such as the Aquatic Center and the county fairgrounds, and on parks and pools in rural areas.

Potential alternatives to a levy for more funding included advertising at parks. Eventually, the levy was the top recommendation from the Metropolitan Parks Task Force.

“This is a critical time for King County parks, and I commend the council for its support in bringing this important issue to the voters,” said Sims.

He also applauded the task force members for “recommending this modest levy.”

“This is an important step because the blueprint we have put together for the parks depends on a strong, stable funding source,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds..”

Before the levy goes on the ballot, Sims must sign the council’s legislation authorizing the measure.

The council passed it 11-2.

Some council members called the levy a compromise. They also noted that since the county began paring expenses, non-essential services such as parks have been subject to the deepest budget cuts. County parks face closure at the end of 2003 without a new source of funding.

“We find ourselves in a very difficult situation, with the current economic recession and lack of jobs,” said Councilman David Irons. “The average person on the street is feeling the crunch. I think we need to look very hard at this levy. We have done that, and I have faith that the voters will spend the time to become knowledgeable about the subject and make the right choice.”

A similar countywide ballot measure in February for the regional library system was defeated.

The levy was authorized by the council in an 11-2 vote.

“The voters have told us that they have an opinion,” Irons said. “They’ve said over and over again that they want to continue to voice their opinion. This levy gives the voters the opportunity to do so again.

“We have one of the best, if not the best, parks systems in the nation. This levy will maintain our investment while we continue to work on our budget problems. I was able to support this proposal because several prudent, well-founded and well-thought-out amendments reduced the levy to four years and 4.9 cents per $1,000. We have provided time for voters to be well-education and well-informed on the ramifications if this levy does or doesn’t pass. My goal for this levy was to remove excesses and provide a laser-like focus on maintaining existing facilities while we reprioritize funding during tough economic times.”

The County Executive must sign the legislation and the Clerk of the Council must certify it for the county’s Records, Elections and Licensing Services Division before the levy is formally submitted to voters.

Read more about this legislation on the King County Council’s LEGISEARCH system at http://mkcclegisearch.metrokc.gov and type in “2003-0071”

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