A proposal to create a Seattle Park District to fund city parks and community centers was leading in Tuesday night returns.
By 52 percent to 48 percent, Seattle voters were siding with city leaders and some parks advocates in approving the creation of a new, permanent taxing authority with the power to raise more money than an expiring six-year levy.
“I’m very happy that we’ll be able to stabilize parks funding in Seattle,” said Mayor Ed Murray, who championed the Park District. “Levies are only a short-term solution, and I think the voters understand that.”
Slightly less than two-thirds of the votes have been counted, based on King County Elections’ projection of a 38 percent turnout.
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The measure would generate $48 million a year to address a maintenance backlog of almost $270 million and restore community-center hours cut during the recession. The City Council, which would serve as the Park District Board, has said it would set the property-tax rate at 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $149 annually for the owner of a $450,000 home.
But critics of the plan, which included many longtime parks supporters and volunteers, argued it would remove oversight because the city would not have to go back to voters every six years for approval. Also, they worried a future council would raise the tax rate.
They also objected to the City Council serving as the board of commissioners, saying the members would hold both legislative and executive roles without any checks to their power.
In campaign literature and robocalls, opponents claimed that the Park District could sell off parkland and build stadiums and that the measure would raise property taxes 20 percent, assertions that supporters said were untrue and intended to scare voters.
But supporters, in their campaign literature, avoided mentioning the creation of a new taxing district.
Rather, they said the current levy was expiring and the new measure would provide a stable and secure source of funding.
The Park District plan doubles the current levy, which raised $24 million a year. Supporters noted that the amount wasn’t enough to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance projects and that the list actually grew. That levy also lacked funds to develop and operate new properties purchased with its funding.
Supporters noted the Parks Department would continue to submit a yearly operating plan and budget to the City Council for approval and that City Council members could be voted out of office if the public didn’t like how they ran the district or spent its funds.