The Seattle Parks District approved its second six-year budget Tuesday, nearly doubling the parks levy to fund new rangers, invest in community centers and increase access to hygiene and cooling facilities.
The district board, a body made up of members of the Seattle City Council, adopted a funding plan that brings the district budget — about a third of the total parks budget — to $118 million in 2023 and $143 million by 2028, funded by the doubled levy assessment rate.
In August, Mayor Bruce Harrell released a proposal to nearly double funding through the district’s levy, to expand access to park facilities and park staff, including adding 26 rangers focused on downtown parks.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, president of the board, proposed a similar budget this month that increased the levy slightly more, to fund community centers, decarbonization, an off-leash dog park in West Seattle and expanding the parks equity fund.
The final budget is reflective of both Harrell and Lewis’s requests.
When the levy was approved by voters in 2014, the board was given the authority to impose a fee of up to $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
In its first budget cycle, the district stayed under a third of that limit, collecting a rate of $0.20 in 2022, costing the median homeowner in Seattle just over $150 this year.
Next year, the rate will leap to $0.39, bringing the average Seattle homeowner (with a property value of $860,000) from paying about $155 annually to $342 in 2023, and about $450 by 2028.
Throughout the budget process, Lewis said his goal was to create a spending plan that would keep parks and facilities “clean, safe and open.” The final plan, he said Tuesday, also makes sure the spaces are accessible and environmentally sound.
“This is a plan to protect, preserve and enhance those spaces for future generations to enjoy,” Lewis said.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen — the sole board member to vote against the amended budget — said he would have supported up to about a 50% increase to fund some of the budgeted programs, including the park ranger expansion.
“The price tag for this park tax is just too steep to earn my vote today considering the cumulative impact of so many other taxes for important programs on the horizon,” Pedersen said, citing other local taxes to benefit mental health, affordable housing and education.
Councilmember Sara Nelson said the vote was the hardest decision she has made since joining the council in January, and that she shared Pedersen’s concerns.
“I just don’t think that’s what voters had in mind when they voted for the Parks District — doubling [the rate] in the second cycle,” Nelson said. “All that said, the parks are our commons. They’re a basic service and the people want their parks back.”