An increasingly fierce debate over Proposition 1, the Aug. 5 ballot measure that would create a Seattle Park District, is pitting parks supporters against one another. This diverse group agrees parks are valuable. They just disagree on exactly how to fund them.
Tensions flared after Mayor Ed Murray hosted a press conference on Monday in support of the Yes on 1 campaign. As PubliCola reports, the event turned into an unruly spectacle. See the tweet below by KOMO TV Reporter Gaard Swanson.
— Gaard Swanson (@GaardSwanson) July 21, 2014
A few citizens who support parks but oppose Prop. 1 called and emailed this week to say they did not intend to cause problems or raise their voices until they heard city leaders at the press conference accuse them of being anti-parks and likening them to members of the Tea Party movement. (Some said they are proud liberals who just disagree with this particular issue.)
The Seattle Times opposes Prop 1, and published an editorial Wednesday arguing it is not the only option to save parks. The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County urge a ‘no’ vote because its members take issue with Prop. 1’s proposed governance model, which replaces the current parks levy with a new taxing district overseen by the Seattle City Council.
The Municipal League of King County recently came out with a ‘yes’ recommendation, though it noted that “as a matter of good governance, parks operations should be funded through the City’s General Fund. The Municipal League believes a YES vote is the best practical measure available for addressing parks funding shortfalls, but is concerned that approving this measure will result in a continued practice of reducing allocations for essential city services from the General Fund.”
What do readers think? Opinion Northwest featured several viewpoints in a previous post. Additional responses since then have been equally thoughtful and civil. Whether you’re decided or confused about this issue, scroll down to get a sense of why some voters are so fired up about Prop. 1.
No on Prop. 1
Installing this permanent taxing district takes away our ability to vote on how much we are taxed and how the monies are spent. I’ve voted for every levy but I will not allow my voice to be taken away by a (Metropolitan Park District). It’s undemocratic.
— Alyne Fortgang, Seattle
I support a levy and not an MPD. There are too many unanswered or partially answered questions surrounding an MPD. Why not pass another levy that targets the deferred maintenance as a priority item? While that levy is being collected, perhaps we could approach the State Legislature about fixing the MPD statute so voters could have a voice, say, every five or six years. Then, voters would have an ability to decide if the MPD should be continued or if it should be terminated. That is the kind of check we need — not the blank check the City Council is looking for with Prop. 1.
— Rex Wardlaw, Seattle
Parks are a core function of the city. We shouldn’t have to pass any special levies much less a parks district to fund them. It should come from the general fund at the cost of other, non-core functions of city government, and those non-core functions should instead be subject to special levies. Special levies are a game of fungible tax revenues and bait-and-switch tactics by the City Council and I think too many people vote for them without thinking about what the Council is really doing. Sure, these special levies fund the programs they are stated to support, but they facilitate the shifting of general funds away from core functions of city government to other, non-core functions that most likely would never pass a ballot measure. Think before you vote!
— Jeff Flogel, Seattle
Parks and Recreation should be funded by a levy because then you know exactly what the money is being spent on and what it is going to cost. If you look at how the money is going to be spent in the investment initiatives proposed by the citizens’ advisory committee, you will see that they are vague, redundant and overlap.
Plus more than 30 percent of the money they are asking for will go to buy more land, develop more parks, hire more people and create new programs. The reason the parks department has a backlog of maintenance is because they chose to spend the money elsewhere.
And you do not mention the fact that because the City Council has put the parks in a position where they have to borrow $10 million dollars the first year, the city will make a million-and-a-half in interest off of parks.
City Council wants to save the levy money for other projects such as the pre-school program and the new waterfront park, and that is one of the reasons they are pushing an MPD. Another reason is that this gives them a new source of tax revenue with them in control of how the money is spent.
— Vicki Koeplin, Seattle
With the construction boom all over this city, property tax revenues must be gushing in. With more than a dozen cranes in South Lake Union alone, the city needs to prioritize general fund money to maintain parks.
— Michael Keyes, Seattle
I wish that the Seattle City Council and Mayor [Ed Murray] would stop thinking that the levy system is broken for our parks system. Prop. 1 for a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) is not good governance and would allow the city council to make the major decisions without citizen review that a levy would provide. The levy system for parks has been used for over 100 years and has been approved by voters every time.
This city council used Bridging the Gap funds for a transportation project in South Lake Union that had not been pre-approved and was very slow in helping the replacement of the South Park Bridge that could have fallen. Only after King County moved forward to save this bridge, did the Seattle City Council take action and participate in the shared funding for this bridge between the county and city. South Park businesses and residents had to make do with construction for more than 12 months. If this is how levy transportation funds for Bridging the Gap are spent by the city council, look at what fun citizens have to look forward to with a park district.
The levy system is not broken. The decision-making oversight at City Hall is broken and needs to be changed. A ‘no’ vote is a vote for responsible governance. Do not write a blank check for city council. Bring back the levy process for parks and more checks and balances, with proper citizen review.
— Joan Paulson, Seattle
I support the viewpoint of the Times’ editorial advocating for voters to NOT pass Prop. 1 for an independent park district. I was listening to KUOW when Mr. [Ken] Bounds made his very spurious “If this fails, there is no funding” comment. I am all for giving the parks the resources needed — through a levy, not through a non-refundable, non-negotiable entity which will make its own rules. I have voted for every park levy in the past twenty years. As a homeowner who pays assessment fees, I know the meaning of levies, but I have a say in the process. With the proposed park district, all other property tax payers and I will be locked in to an ever-increasing property tax. The demographics of Seattle are changing to a more mobile, younger population in which owning property is not the ultimate goal. Funding for all the city’s needs CANNOT be placed onto property owners. It’s an outdated funding model, but the answer for the parks’ needs is not the formation of an entity which would not be accountable to citizens. It’s very disappointing that the City Council would even let such an entity be proposed, let alone put on a ballot measure. Council members and Mayor Murray, what were you thinking?
— Patrick Cone, Seattle
Yes on Prop 1.
My experience as city budget director and superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation has led me to conclude that we are all kidding ourselves if we think general funds and eight-year levies will solve our park funding problem.
The State provides one option for local jurisdictions to fund parks with a fund source that is exclusively dedicated to parks — and that’s the Metropolitan Park District. Sixteen other jurisdictions use this tool. Why not Seattle? An MPD is head and shoulders above any other available approach.
Proposition 1 uses that tool and molds it to fit Seattle’s needs. The ordinance passed unanimously by the city council and signed by the mayor — i.e. the law, which the Times does not even acknowledge — does the following: identifies how the funds will be allocated; establishes the most robust citizen oversight of any prior levy (and I was involved in implementing three of them in 1991,1999 and 2001); guarantees that the current level of general fund (adjusted annually for inflation) will continue to be allocated to Parks, therefore no reduction in current funding (again, no prior levy did this); obligates the City to conduct annual audits of the MPD; and simply transfers the revenue collected by the levy to the city to be governed by the City Charter, ordinances and Parks Administrative Code.
There will be no new bureaucracy. No new way of managing parks as the opponents state and the Times seems to conclude. It’s simply not true. If you truly do love parks, like the Times and the opponents of Prop. 1 say they do, then you will vote Yes on Prop 1 August 5. There really is no viable alternative. We know levies, combined with general fund, equals inadequate maintenance, limited hours at our community centers and a growing backlog of major repairs throughout the system. Remember, the Times has opposed the last two levies. Don’t be hoodwinked into thinking they actually will support one in the future. As superintendent, I experienced Seattle citizens loving their parks. I’m confident they will see through the fog and vote yes on August 5th.
— Ken Bounds, Former Seattle Parks Superintendent
There’s unfortunately no magic source of money to pay for our parks and community centers. The city is allowed by the state to rely primarily on four sources of funding — sales tax, property tax, Real Estate Excise Tax, and B&O taxes — to fund its obligations. This revenue must cover demands for police, fire, health, housing, human services, transportation and more. During the recession, money was tight and Parks has been at the bottom of this list.
I agree with many readers that we should fund our parks and community center from the general fund alone if we could. But there simply isn’t enough revenue from approved resources to cover all the city’s needs and residents’ expectations.
What we can do is use all the tools that are available to us under state law. The Mayor and City Council — after nearly three years of conversations with experts and a citizen’s advisory committee — recommend that we smartly use an authorized state tool to help us fund our parks allowed in Ch. 35.61 RCW — the Seattle Park District. This is neither new or complicated. Tacoma has been using this approach successfully for over a century.
The Seattle City Council recommends a ‘yes’ vote for the Seattle Park District, Proposition 1. It’s a step in a very solid direction to keep our parks well maintained, keep the doors open in every community center, and to make sure everyone can safely enjoy a neighborhood park.
— Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Councilmember
A citizen-led committee was tasked by the mayor and city council to answer some big questions: How can we take care of neighborhood parks and community centers over the long-term? How can we be sure our parks and community centers meet the needs of America’s fastest-growing city? How can we be accountable to our kids, their kids, and their kids?
After nine months of study and an exhaustive public review process, the committee recommended the formation of a Seattle Park District, which now awaits our vote in the form of Prop. 1.
If approved, Prop. 1 will provide a new, ongoing source of revenue dedicated exclusively to parks while also guaranteeing the current level of funding for parks from the city’s General Fund (adjusted annually for inflation). If we vote YES, we will have secured the most substantial and progressive financial commitment to Seattle parks in the system’s 150-year history.
The citizens committee also insisted on significantly enhanced, ongoing citizen-led planning and oversight, annual external audits of the parks department, and citizen-led strategic reviews of and recommendations for major investment initiatives every six years.
This will be a big win for all of us.
— Thatcher Bailey, Seattle Parks Foundation President
Seattle Parks have faced significant budget cuts, leading to decreased hours for community centers, cutting of affordable programs for kids, seniors, and people with disabilities, and decreasing the ability to properly maintain our parks, facilities, and urban tree canopy. The inability for revenue to keep up with inflation and population growth is leading to reduced access to safe spaces, and it should come as no surprise that crime is increasing in our neighborhoods.
Is the Park District perfect? Of course not. But, as noted by the Municipal League, it is a far better option than levies to ensure long-term, sustainable funding for parks and programs, ensuring equitable access for all Seattle residents, regardless of income or geographic location. Parks opponents have no solution other than cuts that will continue to allow our system to deteriorate, leaving an even costlier mess for future generations. Vote YES for parks, vote YES on Proposition 1!
— Michael Maddux, Former member of Seattle Parks Legacy Plan Citizen Advisory Committee