SEATTLE voters should be skeptical of campaign claims that frame Proposition 1 as the best, or only, way to fix the city’s much-loved parks system.
Parks are valuable and deserving of taxpayer funds, but this measure is about much more than money. It creates an entirely new agency with its own taxing authority.
No longer would Seattle’s parks be under the mayor’s direction, with budgets approved by the City Council — and boosted by voter-approved levies. Instead, the new Park Board, which would have the same members as the City Council, would administer the parks and its new taxing authority. Once a simple majority of voters create the district, it would be permanent, giving the council carte blanche control over a large pot of new money with questionable citizen oversight.
Supporters say a Park District is no big deal because Tacoma has had one for years that works well. Here’s the difference: That board consists of independently elected members accountable to voters.
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Other concerns to keep in mind include:
• Proposition 1 would not knock out the city’s estimated $267 million maintenance backlog, as proponents recently told a Seattle Times reporter. The measure would raise about $48 million beginning in 2016. Only about $28 million is set aside for maintenance of parks, including the Woodland Park Zoo and the Seattle Aquarium. About $11 million would be unwisely spent on expanding the system.
• The district could raise taxes without voter approval and regardless of the parks department’s performance. Initially, the City Council has determined, the district would charge property owners 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on a home (about 13 cents more than the expiring levy), but City Council members would be able to raise that to as much as 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — without voter approval.
• Prop. 1 proponents promise to listen to input from a citizens’ committee. But members are confirmed by the City Council and their advice is nonbinding.
Voters should hold out for a better option in a future election, whether that is a levy with specific projects or an alternate park-district proposal with stronger citizen participation and accountability.
Parks still receive about $89 million annually from the general fund. The Seattle City Council must prioritize, maintain and enhance that commitment.
Independent performance and financial audits should also be completed before voters ever write a blank check.
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).