SEATTLE’S 465 parks are becoming like the comfy old reading chair in the corner, used and loved until the upholstery is bare. A $267 million maintenance backlog means that raw sewage sometimes dumps into the crew boat hanger at Green Lake because of a failing pump, and the entry way to Medgar Evers Pool floods.
Catching up on maintenance of the existing gems and polishing diamonds in the rough should be a priority as a $24 million-a-year parks levy expires this year. But the solution proposed by a Department of Parks and Recreation citizens committee, and endorsed by Mayor Ed Murray, is to go far past maintenance by adding new parks and a catalog of new parks programs.
The proposal now before the Seattle City Council is to double the existing property-tax levy devoted to parks, to $54 million a year, raising the annual cost for the owner of a $400,000 home from $76 to $168. It is not a backbreaking addition, but it would tighten the squeeze on middle-class families already struggling with Seattle’s cost of living.
And it furthers a trend of jumbo specialty property levies. The annual amount of dedicated “lid-lift levies” jumped over the past decade from $65 million to $146 million. The Families and Education Levy doubled in 2011 and the low-income housing levy jumped 50 percent in 2009.
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The candy dish of levies is about to be dived into again. Likely headed to the ballot this year are a universal prekindergarten levy and a renewal of a much larger city Bridging the Gap transportation levy. There’s talk of putting public election financing, which failed last year, on the fall ballot.
The candy dish has been dived into so often that there is not enough levy capacity for all of the above. That is one reason why the parks committee proposed creating a new Metropolitan Parks District. A fancy name, but consider it a virtual Seattle. Same borders. Overseen by the same Seattle City Council. Taxes paid by the same Seattle residents. But it comes with wholly new taxing authority, and it would be permanent.
The cost of progressive ideas is high, and Seattle voters repeatedly vote yes for them. But progressive idealism should also ensure that Seattle is not just a city affordable for the rich.
It falls on the Seattle City Council to rightsize the list of levy requests, starting with the parks proposal, before voters finally choke on a piece of candy and spit it back out.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).