A proposal to create a Seattle Park District to fund city parks and community centers continued to widen its lead in Thursday’s vote count.
The measure was leading 53 percent to 47 percent Thursday, with about 132,000 ballots counted. Opponents would need about 70 percent of the remaining votes to defeat the measure.
“I want to thank Seattle voters for their support of the parks district and commitment to creating a lasting legacy of open space and facilities for generations of Seattleites,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. “This vote means a sustainable source of funding for our parks system. We will begin work immediately to address our existing maintenance backlog, working diligently to manage the needs of our park system as Seattle continues to grow as a city.”
The measure would generate $48 million a year to address a maintenance backlog of almost $270 million and restore community-center hours cut during the recession. The City Council, which would serve as the Park District Board, has said it would set the property-tax rate at 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $149 annually for the owner of a $450,000 home.
But critics of the plan, which included many longtime parks supporters and volunteers, argued it would remove oversight because the city would not have to go back to voters every six years for approval. Also, they worried a future council would raise the tax rate. They also objected to the City Council serving as the board of commissioners, saying the members would hold both legislative and executive roles without any checks to their power.
Supporters said the new measure would provide a stable and secure source of funding.
The Park District plan doubles the current levy, which raised $24 million a year. Supporters noted that the amount wasn’t enough to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance projects and that the list actually grew. That levy also lacked funds to develop and operate new properties purchased with its funding.