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July 16, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Readers react to Seattle Park District measure

Corrected version

A call-out last week for readers to tell us how they would fund Seattle’s expansive parks system so far has generated more than a dozen thoughtful responses. Highlights from some of those comments are featured below.

The Seattle Times editorial board recently advocated voting against Proposition 1, known as the Seattle Park District measure on the Aug. 5 ballot. As I blogged about in this Thursday post, several other organizations agree that parks are a valuable resource worthy of public investment, but creating a new taxing authority controlled by the city council is not the way to go at this time.

Election Day is just around the corner, so if voters are looking to understand the measure better, scroll down or read pro/con guest columns published in the Sunday edition of the Times.

Let’s build up this community discussion, too. Have a thought to share? Go to the Google form at the bottom of this post and tell us how you think Seattle residents should pay to maintain more than 400 parks and recreational programs.

No on Prop. 1:

General fund money isn’t enough to fix our parks and I don’t support a park district. I’ve supported every park levy and will support every one in the future. I worked for Parks and think they’re a defining feature of a civilized society, so I support our parks wholeheartedly.

Metropolitan Park Districts (MPD) are a tool from a vastly different time, the early 20th century. They just don’t fit today’s expectations of participation and accountability. We can do much better for our parks and the citizens who pay to support them.

The proponents of the MPD have been disingenuous. Their proposal goes way beyond a maintenance backlog, to acquiring new parks, newly developing undeveloped ones and establishing dozens of programs totally separate from capital needs. (Good programs, but slipped over in their messaging.) Taxing authority is given solely to the City Council acting as the MPD board. Confused? Exactly the point.

There are many options, including local legislation creating an updated, Seattle-style, park district. Look hard before you leap into Proposition 1.

As was said, “It’s Godzilla disguised as Bambi.”

Tim Rood, Seattle

Yes on Prop. 1

I think it high time we stop this incessant belief that government is bad or evil or that tax authority is somehow a bad thing. What is wrong with creating a professional position to manage our parks? No official, elected, appointed or hired is above public monitoring and, if necessary, change.

The altruistic idea that a committee of citizenry is competent or efficient to request, allocate or manage resources is misguided.

Parks need permanent funding, otherwise we run the risk of perfection being the enemy of goodness.

Marston Gould, Seattle

I strongly support a Seattle Parks District. Opposition to the Parks District has yet to identify a real issue with the mechanism; instead it is based on anti-tax rhetoric that ignores the needs and desires of our parks and citizens.

The City Council currently oversees a $4 billion-plus budget without specific citizen voter approval — how would adding $50 million in Parks funding to this be so unaccountable?

Do citizens have the ability to vote on the abolition of the Department of Transportation? How about Fire Department? No, of course not. So why all of a sudden is it critical that we have a vote in the abolition of Parks funding?

Weston Brinkley, Seattle

Protect what Seattle already has

I think general fund money should be used. And we shouldn’t be buying more land for parks until we can maintain them. Developer impact fees should also be imposed and maybe used for roads and sidewalks so that the money spent on those could be used on parks instead. And we need to be aware of the ups and downs in the economy. Part of this maintenance backlog may be due to shortages in budget during the recession year. Slowly the tax base is increasing and so we should be catching up, and this should be taken into account. I wouldn’t say a levy is a no-go but it needs to be reasonable, not the most expensive ever like I hear most of the parks levies are these days.

Sylvia Schweinberger, Seattle

Consider alternative forms of funding

I believe an additional option to funding the parks system would be to allow organizations the opportunity to sponsor individual parks or portions of parks. For example, individual soccer clubs should be given the chance to pay a sponsorship/maintenance fee which would allow it to have exclusive scheduling rights to the field. By doing so, it would allow the club to have a “home” field while providing the necessary upkeep to the facilities. It would have the added benefit that the parks system would no longer have to deal with any scheduling issues for that particular field. The city would benefit because funds which would normally have been allocated to the maintenance of the facility could be used for other purposes and the additional sponsorship fee would add to those available funds.

Steve Tanaka, Seattle

Bring back a levy measure

The method that has worked best is the tax levy. Each levy lists specific projects that will be financed and at the end of the levy, citizens have the opportunity to evaluate its success. Citizens can then help to prioritize projects for the next levy and can be assured their top priority projects will be actualized.

None of these “safeguards” are available with the MPD because the City Council will prioritize projects and allocate funds.

There will be no list of guaranteed projects for the voter to assess before the August 5th election. The voter will not know how his tax dollars will be spent

Inherent in that process will be the ability of wealthy, well-connected people to influence the projects that are to be funded such as the $400 million-plus, grand waterfront park that will benefit downtown property and business owners.

The informed citizen will vote “no” on the MPD proposition and tell City Council to put a levy on an upcoming ballot!

Sharon LeVine, Seattle

Information in this post, originally published July 16, was corrected on July 25. A  previous version of this letter incorrectly stated the levy system has been used for over 100 years. The first parks-related levy passed in 1991. Voters passed the first park bond in 1906.

Keep current funding levels

There is enough funding at current levels. The financial management of the parks department is a mess. This is well known by city financial staff. The new mayor should now be aware of this by this time. An audit is needed because of the unwillingness to establish the tools to measure performance on existing programs and improve the use of parks money and resources.

Steve Fields, Redmond

Want to join the debate? Fill out the form below. How do you think the city should fund its beloved parks system and address the growing backlog of maintenance problems? Is general fund money enough? Or do you support a park district? Another levy? Share your thoughts in the forum below. We’ll post thoughtful, civil comments from all sides.

Real names, phone numbers and addresses are required. Contact information is just for verification purposes and not for publication.

Comments | Topics: august primary, election, metropolitan park district

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The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


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