PROPONENTS of Proposition 1 are misleading voters when they claim approval of a Seattle Park District on the Aug. 5 ballot is the only way to save city parks. The measure represents a significant change in governance and a tax increase.
Former Superintendent Ken Bounds recently told KUOW’s The Record, “If this fails, there is no funding.”
This all-or-nothing approach is troublesome because an alternate funding measure could indeed make the ballot as early as next February.
If voters approve Proposition 1, new taxes would not even be collected until 2016. According to the city’s proposed six-year spending plan, the Parks and Recreation Department would get through the next year by borrowing about $10 million.
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After that, the Seattle Park District — headed by City Council members — would have the authority to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property owners without voter input, a massive increase from the expiring levy of about 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Council members say they will only collect 33 cents per $1,000 value initially.
Investment is important. Leaky community center roofs and dirty pools must get fixed, but not enough of Proposition 1 funds — only about 58 percent — would be spent on repairing a maintenance backlog that has ballooned to nearly $270 million. Instead of taking care of current assets, about a quarter of the new park district’s first-year revenue would be spent on expansion and development.
Before attempting to replace a parks levy that voters approve every few years with a vastly different funding mechanism that gives the City Council control over a new fund worth tens of millions, the parks system should first undergo an independent, comprehensive audit. Such a review has never been done before, but it would help prioritize projects and tell voters exactly how their money is being spent.
Voters should remember that once a district is formed and the council takes the reins, it can only be dissolved by its members — a highly unlikely scenario.
Seattle voters are accustomed to having a robust voice on how their dollars are spent. They should not be bamboozled into thinking Proposition 1 is the sole solution for fixing parks.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).