The Seattle City Council — acting as the Seattle Park District Board — should put the brakes on a massive spending increase until it has the full picture of parks priorities and future operations.
In 2014, voters approved the creation of the Seattle Park District, which provided a dedicated, ongoing property tax.
The funds were intended to go to major and ongoing maintenance “like cleaning restrooms, trash pickup, and mowing.” It was also set to pay for maintenance at Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium, two city-owned facilities operated by separate nonprofits.
The Park District’s dedicated property taxes currently pay for about 19% of the overall parks budget. Most of the rest comes from the city’s general fund.
On Aug. 31, Mayor Bruce Harrell released his Park District funding plan that doubles the property tax — and increases the share of Park District funding of the entire parks budget to approximately 30%.
Parks Board President Andrew Lewis released his own version of a Park District plan that came in slightly higher, increasing the annual levy amount for an average Seattle home assessed at $860,000 from $155 this year to $342 in 2023, and about $450 by 2028.
Here’s the problem: Lewis wants the Park District Board — aka the City Council — to vote on the package on Tuesday. That’s the same day Harrell releases his 2023 budget, which includes the majority of parks funding. The Council debates the budget throughout the fall, with final approval set for November.
How will the Park District money jibe with the general fund and other dollars allocated to parks? No one is really sure.
Instead of this bifurcated process, it would make more sense for the City Council to consider projects funded by the property tax hike at the same time it considers the total parks budget. Just like police and transportation, the Parks and Recreation Department should provide the council special briefings detailing how it will improve restroom cleaning and other basic maintenance in its overall budget.
It’s important that the parks department uses its money efficiently and effectively. As it stands, the City Council is trying to figure out how to spend about 30% of the estimated total on parks without a clear plan for the other 70%.
There is a better way. Wait for all the information and make informed decisions about taxes and park operations that are in the best interest of parkgoers as well as residents picking up the tab.