Despite being surrounded by mountains, water and trees, nearly a fourth of all King County residents − the majority in the southern part of the county − can’t easily visit a park or trail because of distance and other barriers.
A portion of the $810 million levy on the Aug. 6 ballot would go toward programs to increase access to parks, open spaces and trails for communities that historically have been underserved. Advocates say the dedicated funding is a unique aspect of the six-year levy that would fund the maintenance and operations of parks, trails and recreational facilities throughout the county.
“It’s nice to see a larger movement for park equity growing,” said Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, of the Wilderness Society, which has endorsed the measure. “This is a big step.”
The proposed levy would replace the current levy that expires at the end of the year, but homeowners would pay more than they do now. If the levy is approved, a homeowner would pay 18.32 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value. The owner of a home valued at $500,000 would pay $7.60 per month, which is about $2.25 more than the current rate.
The levy originally was proposed at an estimated $738 million over six years, but more grant programs were added as city officials provided feedback on the measure, according to Katy Terry, acting division director of King County Parks.
About $319 million, or 39% of the funding, would go toward the upkeep of the county’s 200 parks, 175 miles of trails and 28,000 acres of open space. The next largest focus, accounting for 24% of the funding, is on programs for parks and recreation accessibility. The $193 million in funding would go toward support for programs like the Woodland Park Zoo’s free zoo admission for King County schools where at least 30% of its students are from low-income families.
The rest of the money generated would go toward improving regional trails, like the Lake to Sound Trail, and acquiring and protecting open spaces. In Seattle, about $8 million would fund construction of the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion.
“What is really neat about this levy is that it is addressing a lot of needs regionwide, and it’s focusing on a lot of areas like recreation, open-space conversion, preserving the spaces before they disappear,” Terry said.
Levy funding accounts for about 80% of King County Parks’ operating budget, and officials haven’t identified an alternative funding source if the measure isn’t approved.
There’s no formal opposition, but the measure did receive one “no” vote on the Metropolitan King County Council. Reagan Dunn said he objected to the amount of the levy and thought it should be more focused on active recreation as opposed to acquiring open spaces.
The funding should remain static, he said, “so you don’t do dramatic increases and dip your hands into the pockets of taxpayers every time you increase the levy.”
Terry, of King County Parks, said the increase accounts for significant increases in inflation, projected population growth and the rising number of park visits.
“This something we have seen regionwide,” she said. “It’s a good thing to happen. We want to encourage people to be out in nature and recreating, but it also means there is more of a need for park spaces and recreation activities. The growth in the levy is trying to address that.”
The measure requires a simple majority to pass. About 70% of voters approved the $396 million levy in 2013.