Why to vote no on Prop 1's metropolitan parks district

Guest Opinion: Vote No on Proposition 1, No on the creation of a new, independent taxing district that will change a system that has served Seattle well.
One of Woodland Park Zoo's elephants

One of Woodland Park Zoo's elephants Credit: nappent/Flickr

A Seattle ordinance for the creation of a Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) will be on the ballot this August as Proposition 1. Since we are long-time advocates and volunteers for our parks, you may wonder why we oppose Proposition 1 and recommend that you do the same. 

State law (RCW Chapter 35.61) limits the content of the ballot measure to four things: (1) the name, (2) who sits on the Board (the Seattle City Council, in this case), (3) the geographical boundaries, (4) the tax rate of $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. If citizens vote to approve the MPD, a permanent taxing district with broad powers granted by the state, is created.

The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County recommends that the public vote no on Prop 1. 

Their website states: “The League’s recommendation is based upon several of its long-held ‘good government’ positions.” Establishing a completely separate, permanent government entity with broad powers but only vague and non-binding rules for how decisions will be made now and in 20 or 50 years does not meet one of their most fundamental principles of good government. “While the League has long supported parks and appropriate funding for parks," the organization writes, "the current proposal goes beyond a simple funding mechanism and creates an entity that lacks adequate accountability to the voters.”

Once created, how the MPD wants to do business is up to the whims of the MPD Board. How much money from the general fund will go to Parks? That’s up to the MPD Board acting as the Seattle City Council. What pet projects will be funded? That’s up to the City Council acting as the MPD Board. What will be the actual tax rate? That’s up to the City Council acting as the MPD Board. How much selective listening will be exercised? That depends on the desires of those same individuals who keep changing their acting hats. 

The truth is, state law grants the MPD broad authority to build stadiums, buy more elephants for the Woodland Park Zoo, privatize our parks, finance a waterfront park, etc. — all without your vote. This is very different from levies.

Now, those who advocate for the MPD tell us they have spelled out everything: how the MPD will operate, how they will have oversight committees, how they won’t decrease the money flow to parks from the general fund, how they have defined categories for spending, how they will listen to us. They say that’s all included in the interlocal agreement. Well, guess what else is in that interlocal agreement. Item 6.1 says all the promises they have made regarding accountability and use of funds can be “terminated upon the provision of 180 calendar days notice.” How can you have true and honest accountability if those being held accountable can change their own rules?

Should we change a park levy system that has worked very well since the 1900s? No.

We, along with all Seattle voters, support park levies. We trust the voters.

The MPD is permanent. While it will take only a simple majority vote to form an MPD, citizens can’t vote to dissolve it. For that matter, if an MPD is created, we will never again be able to vote on any park matters. An MPD takes away our vote forever. The accountability that comes with measurable outcomes is lost. 

We are a grassroots group that agrees with the League of Women Voters. We love our parks and want to support them. We believe in the power of the vote at the ballot box. We understand accountability is gained through binding operational rules and named projects. We support good democratic practices. We believe the investment of time to get it right the first time is worth it, especially in this case when do-overs aren’t an option. The MPD does not pass the test for good democratic government.

Vote No on Proposition 1. Help us preserve the citizens’ right to vote on taxes and programs that are the lifeblood of our parks.

Don Harper and Carol Fisher, chair and vice chair, respectively of Our Parks Forever (www.ourparksforever.com) are strong parks advocates. They’ve volunteered thousands of hours and raised over $2 million for parks. Don is on the Queen Anne Community Council, chairs its Parks Committee, is on the steering committees for improvements at Kinnear and Smith Cove Parks and served on the citizens advisory committees for the 2000 and 2008 parks levies. He is treasurer of Seattle Peace Theatre. Carol is the president of the Lifelong Recreation Program Advisory Council for Seattle seniors and volunteers in off-leash areas. She and her dog are a certified therapy team and volunteer at health care facilities and college campuses.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

"This is why it's too hard to take the no side seriously—they're focused on whiny baby stuff about "permanent" taxes and how levies are awesome because voters have to sign off on the taxes directly. But this is how the democratic process works: We elect leaders who set taxes and build budgets and fund infrastructure, and when they fuck it up, we vote them out. Vote "for."" - The Stranger

"The Municipal League recommends voting YES on Proposition 1.
The Seattle parks system is a critically important city service and valuable neighborhood asset. The current parks levy is expiring. There is widespread agreement that the City faces a significant maintenance backlog because of reduced funding for parks created by increased competition for scarce General Fund dollars. The Municipal League believes that establishing a sustainable funding source for parks is preferable to the existing method of using periodic levies that have emphasized capital projects over basic maintenance." - Municipal League of King County

Yet again, Don and Carol use scare tactics not well grounded in fact, political reality, or historical reality. Promoting Eymanism, pretending to be advocates for the entire parks system, and, shockingly, having no actual solution for long-term, sustainable funding for parks and community centers. *yawn*

I'll take the 70+ community organizations, labor organizations, environmental organizations, Democratic Party organizations, business organizations, human services organizations, athletic organizations, good governance organizations, etc., over their GOP funded campaign any day.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Your and the Muni Leagues support for Prop 1 are pure unadulterated BS. Let's examine the truth of the statements that. "the City faces a significant maintenance backlog because of reduced funding for parks created by increased competition for scarce General Fund dollars" & "levies that have emphasized capital projects over basic maintenance."

The fact is there was a significant parks maintenance backlog before City Council put the first levy on the ballot to create more parks with no provision for maintenance. When presented with a second levy proposal by then Mayor Nichols that included maintenance funds, City Council eliminated the maintenance funds and increased capital spending.

Your solution is to create a new entity to solve the mess governed by the same folks that created the mess is absurd.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

I call B.S. on this response. I'm for parks and have voted for every levy. The opponents have put up some very valid points and I really haven't seen much of a rebuttal in this response or others.

Setting up an independent taxing district that can only be dissolved - by, yes - the independent taxing district (not the voters) gives me pause.

Also - there is no limit on how high taxes can go - if there were some parameters here I'd feel comfortable.

Parks hasn't taken the lead and conducted an independent audit to say - here's how we have been spending your money to-date and here's why we need more funds. It just "you love parks - give us more money"

Give the number of new taxes coming up the middle class is just getting squeezed in this city. Why not just ask for a levy of the size that is needed and then show us how that money was spent over the next several years?

This seems like a power play slated for a lazy summertime election when everyone is not out having fun in the sun. It feels deceptive. Sorry, not buying it.

Lily32

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, first of all YOU CANNOT HAVE A LEVY that is large enough. there isn't room. Sure, technically, this is because of other levy priorities pushed by electeds. I'm not debating that. I'm just pointing out that those same electeds aren't going to give you a levy, and you can't currently have one that will generatee this level of funds.

As for fears of lack of control... Are you frightened of the BILLIONS of dollars the Council currently controls? We have all sorts of transportation and utilities districts that currently operate just fine with electeds from other bodies making the decisions. Generally speaking, they meet simply to set the rates each year. That's it.

In tha case of the MPD, the Parks department and properties continue to be controlled by the Mayor, staffed by city employees, led by the Superintendent, etc. All of those activities continue to be governed by existing city/county/state laws and Open Records/Public Meetings statutes.

About the only real "meaty" opposition point is that the MPD could raise taxes further at any time without voter approval. That's it. And there is a cap in the law just like there is a cap we're approaching for city levy capacity. They can't just raise taxes indefinitely, forever...

Mickymse

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

"Are you frightened of the BILLIONS of dollars the Council currently controls?" Yes I am, but at least we have some ability to check them with referendums and initiatives, like I-42 (preventing some abuses of City park assets). Why give them more unchecked power; it just creates a situation ripe for abuse.

You keep saying all the Council does is set the tax rate, but that is not accurate--the Council (sitting Park Dst Commission) has the final say on budget allocations. Not just the rate, but what the money will be spent on.

Control by the Mayor over the new revenue stream is illusory; because of the separate entity status, if a dispute arises between what the Mayor wants and what the Council wants, the latter can tell the former to stuff it. Never mind the voters--they have no say whatsoever except to testify to an advisory committee, and to the Council (again, sitting as the Park Dist Commission). The council can even avoid application of I-42 if it comes to that.

louploup

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 7:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Read RCW 35.61 - Parks Dept is governed by the MPD Board i.e. the City Council. Nobody seems to know where the Mayor fits in - at least that question has never been answered by Ken Bounds or Thatcher Bailey.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

I still haven't heard what guarantees we have that parks money eventually disappears from the city's general fund. Yes, there's an interlocal agreement in place, but it's not set in stone. If this were a levy renewal/increase, there wouldn't be any question I'd vote for it. My concern is more about the structure. I don't know about other people who are questioning whether or not we should go ahead with a parks district, but my concerns have nothing whatsoever to do with Eymanism or the Republican Party.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 7:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Section 3.3 of the Inter local agreement says that the council will allot money from the general fund to Parks except when they don't. Section 3.3 states "unless the City Council by resolution with a 3/4 vote determines that a natural disaster or exigent economic circumstances prevent the Council from maintaining this level of General Subfund support" Does anybody seriously believe the council won't cut the funding in an economic downturn like 2008? They cut 127 FTEs from Parks that year.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 11:32 a.m. Inappropriate

I support Seattle parks 100%. I pay taxes, and I vote. I wish to retain my citizen's duty of voting and oversight of city government. City leaders have demonstrated increasingly poor judgment in recent years, and a tendency to be too accommodating to developers, and other special interest.

I'm voting "NO" on Prop 1, my vote and my oversight are too important to the future of good parks management.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Citizen "oversight" is why we ended up with pretty projects and no operations & maintenance funds in the currently expring levy... and how we ended up with Tim Eyman's initiative which forced the City into constantly putting levy lifts on the ballot to increase taxes to pay for basic services... How's that working out for you?

Mickymse

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

If you vote YES on the MPD, it will be a forever levy. controlled by a board ( City Council ). Property owners will eventually be paying 75 cents per $100,000 or $300 plus for a $400,000 valuation.

There will be other levies that Seattle voters will be voting on as well. which may be difficult for home owners and renters as landlords may raise rents. As previously stated ,I would vote for a standard Parks levy .
Parks needs funding , let's do it with a regular old fashioned levy. Parks will receive some funds from the General Fund, but with the backlog and further ongoing maintenance and projects utilizing the 7 or 8 undeveloped park properties, I would vote for the standard Parks levy even if increased, but not what appears to be a devious MPD. LL

Lenny

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 3:25 p.m. Inappropriate

For me it's NOT about the money - I've voted for every parks levy. It's about taking away my voice/my vote. If MPD is voted in, we can never vote again on what happens in our parks. MPD can buy, sell or build whatever they want in our parks. We have no vote.

alyne16

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I will vote NO on Prop 1. Idealistic misrepresentations is all that has helped this campaign obtain their ill-gotten support. The Mayor wants a flower in his bonnet with the waterfront park and this is how he's going to get it.
“An MPD would increase taxes by $88 million/year without guaranteeing even one more dollar for our parks. Were a Seattle MPD to be established with its own limited claim on property taxes, advocates for reducing City spending or for spending more on fire, police, and social needs will have a case against the spending of City property taxes for parks, and these funds are likely to diminish further. Tacoma once had a well-regarded and well-funded Parks Department, but it withered once the Tacoma MPD was established.” C. Leman

Did I also hear that each councilmember receives an extra $ 10,000 a year for serving on this board? No wonder they support it.

moebe

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle has huge maintenance backlogs in streets, parks, and municipal buildings. The right way to prioritize funding for parks, transportation and municipal works is through clear ballot levies, which say what will be done, in what time frame and at what cost. the Parks District proposal is a blank check, which will make government less responsive to the tax payer.

We all love our parks, but a separate district that cuts the tax payer out of the decision making is not the way to show love for our park system.

Queenanne

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

The opponents - many of them represented in the comments above - try to make this complicated. It is their strategy to make sure we come and kiss the community council rings every six years.

Before the Eyman Initiatives, levies were a satisfactory way to fund parks. Prone to inefficiency and political whim, but better than nothing.

Post I-747, levies are stretched thin as the city uses them for every critical service the general fund no longer supports. Transportation, pre-school, bike/ped, human services, low income housing. The Park District is additional revenue that lets Seattle keep up with growing demand and costs that increase faster than I-747 allows.

Prop 1 is all about raising stable, dedicated revenue for parks. Nothing more.

hbkahn

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

You are oversimplifying a measure that will remove accountability, will give City Councils in perpetuity full control on how the funds are spent and will remove voters from the decision-making process.
Developers will make sure the funds are allocated to their pet projects.

moebe

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 6:47 p.m. Inappropriate

I will be voting against Prop 1. Once your vote is gone it is gone forever. Unlike the MPD proponents I am not scared of what the citizens of Seattle think and of how they will vote. All of the past levies have passed with major maintenance projects in them. What they have lacked is operation & daily maintenance money. Acting Superintendent Williams has testified that Parks only needs $3.8 million in annual additional dollars to keep up with the daily maintenance. That is easily obtainable from the general fund where the annual budget is over $2 Billion a year and not worth the reason to create an MPD.

According to Ben Noble, City Budget Director the excess Levy Lid as of January 2015 will be $126 million plus an additional $20 to $25 million due to increased assessed values making a total of $146 million of available Levy dollars. Ben estimates that the additional amount available for levies will increase at $20 to $25 million dollars a year for awhile. In addition another $5 million will be added to the City general fund every year.

And as long as dollars are being talked. Lets not forget about the portion of the Real Estate Excise Tax that goes to capitol maintenance projects at Parks. Every time another building sells for hundreds of millions of dollars, like Pacific Place, lots of money is flowing into Parks to take care of those back logged maintenance projects created by the failures of the Mayor and the City Council.

Don't be scared. Be educated. Love parks and your right to vote by voting no on Prop 1.

Posted Sat, Jul 19, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Many people-like myself-love Seattle's parks, use one or more of them weekly and are happy to pay taxes to support our wonderful parks' system.

Seattleites currently pay property taxes of $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed value ( a "manageable/reasonable" amount for most people).
Included within that amount is our current parks' levy in which a property owner pays 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

No matter how much you love our parks and want to finance them, a 21% increase in property taxes is disasterous for many residents (especially seniors, retired persons on fixed incomes, people who have lived in their homes for many years and whose homes have inflated values, homeowners of low and moderate incomes, etc.) because the CUMULATIVE IMPACTS of all current-and upcoming-taxes may force them out of their homes!

If you vote "yes" to create an MPD, you are voting to increase your property taxes by up to 21%

$3.60 current levy amount + 75 cents equals a 21% property tax increase.

This increase comes with NO ASSURANCE that any particular park project will be financed since there is no list of projects our City Council must fund.

Neighborhood projects are likely to get lower priority than the projects advocated by wealthy, influential people who are able to influence City Council decisions.

So City Council gets a "blank check". Citizens get no assurances, no meaningful way to influence decisions, a permanent tax increase and a situation that will force -potentially thousands- of people to sell their homes which are no longer affordable.

Most people are willing to pay for parks through a levy and should be able to continue to do so with an assessment of a "reasonable" amount.

Posted Sat, Jul 19, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

I will VOTE NO on Proposition 1. The Seattle City Council has been making poor choices in allowing rampant growth throughout the city. Their policies destroyed architecturally significant buildings on Capital hill, blighted neighborhoods by allowing the construction of apodments and other small lot dwellings all over the city. They used levy funding to buy new parks instead of focusing on maintaining existing park assets. At the Senior Services meeting in June Mayor Murray said that they are NOW doing an inventory of parks because they don't know what they have. Check out Seattle channel 21 to hear what he had to say. The council is out of control and the public needs to be able to maintain control over funding sources for parks. A levy would have been a better choice, but the Council and Mayor want a levy because they want that funding source available for other proposals that will be coming.

Dianne

Posted Sun, Jul 20, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I will vote NO on the August 5th MPD Park Proposition ballot. Since when does good government follow the "end justifies the means" philosophy? How clever of the misguided designers of the putsch to use our collective love of parks to camouflage a power grab for tax funds that are removed from public interference. They even succeeded in rushing it to a vote in August when many voters are less active than in November. We voters are so inconvenient! If we are allowed to vote for park levies with strings attached and public accountability that is just too troublesome. The City Council wants to put that to an end once and for all.

Sasa

Posted Sun, Jul 20, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I would have been happy to vote for the MPD, but cannot vote for Prop 1 because it appears poorly structured and removes citizen input (Parks' clients) to fix the completely boneheaded choices frequently made by Parks administration and it's well-connected cronies. Parks made the choice back in the 1990's to not fund maintenance.. Many said this was foolish, but one can only assume that Parks made that choice because high-profile lack of maintenance can be used to sell the need for future levies... and now the MPD with eliminated user input.

I have voted for every levy, volunteered thousands of hours managing projects, fund-raising, and organizing work parties. Staff working in our parks include some wonderful people. I have also witnessed over and over and over again some truly wasteful, poorly conceived, and costly choices made by Parks. It is simply not prudent to give Parks what is basically unfettered access to funds without requiring strong oversight and input from park users.

Proponents never seem to respond to this concern and rely instead on a basic "Parks needs the money" and "if you don't vote for the levy, you must hate parks" argument. Many opponents of Prop 1 have worked closely with Parks for many, many years and have a very clear understanding of the current flaws of the system. Prop 1 appears to pretend that those flaws do not exist AND, even more frightening, eliminates most of the current methods used by parks proponents to correct those flaws.

I am broken-hearted because I love Seattle Parks, but the MPD proposed in Prop 1 represents yet another boneheaded, ill-conceived proposal allowed to move forward by Parks administration. It is not our fault that we feel compelled to kill proposition.

slame

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Mayor Murray and Councilmember Bagshaw are leading a deceptive campaign that fails to disclose any of the attendant details of an MPD except that it's a "sustainable source of funding".

THEY HAVE BEEN DECEPTIVE throughout the campaign and hope to entice voters to approve Proposition 1 by eliminating details that disenfranchise voters.

Their campaign literature and their pronouncements are designed to give the impression that citizens will be approving another levy.

THE BEHAVIOR OF MAYOR MURRAY AND COUNCILMEMBER BAGSHAW WAS REPREHENSIBLE AT A PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY.

They had plans to "carefully orchestrate" a news conference but were annoyed to see that a substantial number of parks' advocates-who support a levy- attended the news conference and held signs in opposition to an MPD.

The Mayor was to speak outside on a deck of the Yesler Community Center.

When the Mayor and "his handlers/supporters" realized there were many in attendance who opposed the MPD, they decided to move the press conference into an adjacent room.

In defiance of "good governance" principles and "open meetings" requirements, the levy proponents were blocked from entering the room.

There were vocal protests by levy supporters who virtually "pushed" themselves into the room to participate in the press/P.R. event.

The MPD opponents were polite until Mayor Murray and Councilmember Bagshaw made disparaging/derogatory comments about "their own constituents" who have an honest opinion of the MPD-that's different from theirs.

Councilmember Bagshaw-personally-knows several of the levy supporters and knows they contribute substantial volunteer efforts to Seattle Parks. But, SHE ATTACKED THESE PARKS' SUPPORTERS BY MAKING A PUBLIC STATEMENT TO THE T.V. REPORTERS. SHE SAID WORDS TO THE EFFECT THAT "THOSE PROTESTERS DO NOT SUPPORT OUR PARKS".

That demeaning comment elicited quite a "howl" from all the people that care about our parks but want to finance them with a levy.

MAYOR MURRAY ALSO ATTACKED THE FOLKS WHO WEREN'T SUPPORTIVE OF AN MPD BY CALLING THEM "TEA PARTY" SUPPORTERS.

His disgusting/undiplomatic behavior also elicited cries from all of the levy supporters. Most yelled that they are loyal, liberal democrats-not Tea Party members and support a levy based on its merits.

I have never attended a public meeting-with elected representatives-who were so dismissive and demeaning to residents/constituents of the district they represent.

These elected officials are exactly part of the reason I won't vote for an MPD measure that gives a virtual "blank check" to City Council members.

Each of these persons had my vote in a previous election but won't get my vote in a future election.

Councilmember Bagshaw is hoping to win election in the district in which I live.

She'll have a difficult time with many politically informed people who know of her deceptive and disrespectful behaviors.

Mayor Murray and Councilmember Bagshaw owe many of their constituents an apology. Their defensive, demeaning taunts to the citizenry are untenable and unacceptable.

Furthermore, they need to tell the truth! They need to make it clear to voters that their vote is not for a levy- like the one they've previously supported- but is for a completely new way of financing and governing Seattle's parks.

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