King County’s public parks, trails and open spaces are treasures worth preserving. Voters can do their part by approving Proposition 1.
The county’s proposed 6-year levy is expected to generate about $810 million in revenue for operations, maintenance, renovation, conservation and expansion of the county’s trails, parks and open spaces. The proposal, presented by King County Executive Dow Constantine following a robust community engagement process and expanded by county council members, allocates up to $44 million for public pools, $22 million for floodplain management and $8 million for the Seattle Aquarium.
Up to $10 million would be spent on a new grant program intended to improve access to parks, recreation and open space in traditionally underserved areas and for people with disabilities. Other funds would be used for acquisition, conservation and stewardship of new lands and rights of way, complementing Conservation Futures Tax revenue investments, and community partners, metropolitan park districts and the Woodland Park Zoo.
If approved, the property tax rate will be 18 cents per $1,000 of valuation in 2020. The owner of a $500,000 home would pay about $7.60 per month — $2 more per month than under the current parks levy, which expires at the end of the year.
This is the fourth time the county has asked voters to approve a levy to fund park operations. Each previous effort has been successful. When a 5-cent parks levy was first proposed in 2002, it was in response to a $52 million general fund shortfall. In 2007, voters doubled down on their commitment, approving a pair of 5-cent levies to fund operations and expansion, respectively.
In 2012, a task force studied the then-26,000-acre system of parks and trails, projected needs and strategies for addressing equity and social justice goals in access to parks and open spaces. After careful consideration, task-force members recommended the current levy with an asterisk, citing “important concerns” about continuing to rely on periodic voter-approved funding for such highly valued amenities. They called on the county to work with cities and other partners to find long-term, secure funding sources.
Clearly, that has not happened. That is disappointing.
Continuing to rely on voter-approved levies potentially jeopardizes this essential county service. What happens if and when property owners tire of ever-increasing tax burdens as budgets continue to grow?
Parks and open spaces are a high priority for King County voters. Six more years of funding should offer ample time for county officials to secure stable, long-term funding for this essential public good.