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Seattle parks: What’s with a mid-summer vote on a long-term change?

Seattle's Seward Park Credit: Flickr user joeydz

Proposition 1 to create a Metropolitan Park District in Seattle is not what it appears to be. It is not a parks levy; it is, instead, a measure that will forever change the administration of our city parks. While appearing to be a relatively benign product of deliberate effort by its proponents, it is a drastic measure being rushed to an emergency-type vote in August, when relatively few people will cast ballots, for a change that can never be erased or modified by the taxpayers of the City of Seattle.

Among concerns raised by the prospect of the approval of a Metropolitan Park District these points are salient:

  • It is designed to increase your property tax significantly without your authorization.
  • Its governance, however, would be by the same City Council members who currently oversee the city parks but who are constrained by having to seek voter-endorsement of their proposed levy on your property value every six years.
  • Once converted to the MPD our parks funds will be subject to lobbying for non-park uses or inappropriate actions by its Board to support things like new waterfront tourist attractions, professional sports arenas and other uses that should be sifted by voters and other stakeholders.
  • Governed by state law rather than by city ordinances, the district, once created, cannot be reversed or altered by city voter initiative, meaning that it could endure many decades even if it is shown to be unsatisfactory.
  • Less inflexible alternatives, such as development impact fees, should be considered as a way to fund the current and increasing need for parks that results from increased development.

Your tax will be increased because the levy rate will no longer be subject to voter approval and, while initially it will be a modest increase, by law it could at any time be raised from the $33 per $100,000 valuation now being planned to $75 per $100,000.  For an average home value of $500,000, this could yield a tax of $375 per year for the indeterminate lifespan of the MPD with no possibility of voter rejection, approval or modification.

Why would the City Council want to create a mirror image of itself as an MPD board when it can already tax beyond the lid with a vote of the people? Precisely: The point of the MPD is that they would not have to face prudent spending limitations enforced by a vote. The lack of adequate funding at all levels of city government for all of its dependencies is the reason-for-being of the MPD. With it, they won’t ever have to ask us again. Is this the reason the City Council is stampeding Seattle voters to a rush vote in August? Many also wonder if the current council wants to do this now, well prior to 2015 elections of a majority of city council seats by geographical area, and in August, when voters are paying the least attention to civic affairs than any other season except Christmas.

Finally, Proposition 1 is not finding public favor in spite of proponents’ efforts to portray it as an unadulterated blessing for kids, families and all of nature's creatures that use or populate our parks. The directors of the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County have voted unanimously to oppose this weakening of the public’s oversight from turning over the parks to the same council but without direct public influence on crucial budget and policy matters.

On Aug. 5, vote no on Proposition 1 to assure future public control of our city parks while retaining some measure of balance in the budgetary allocation of scarce taxpayer dollars. An MPD is a bad governance approach; other, good government approaches should be fully explored before committing the city to an irreversible course of action to maintain our city’s beautiful parks.

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