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Originally published Friday, January 24, 2014 at 9:25 PM

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Parks-district option draws tepid response at public meeting

The public weighs in on funding options for the city parks system, which faces a major maintenance backlog of $270 million. The current Parks and Green Spaces levy expires this year.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Meetings on Seattle parks funding

Parks leaders are holding two more community meetings to get public feedback on a new funding measure and priorities.

1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, High Point Community Center, 6920 34th Ave. S.W. (child care provided)

7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Bitter Lake Community Center, 13035 Linden Ave. N.

To see the priorities and funding recommended by the Parks Legacy Committee:

http://www.seattle.gov/parks/legacy/files/investment_background.pdf

Source: Seattle Parks Department

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Seattle residents don’t mind spending more money for the city’s parks, but they’re reluctant to create a new Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) to oversee a new and permanent property tax dedicated to parks after the current levy expires this year.

That was the sentiment from many at a public meeting Thursday night on priorities and funding for a new ballot measure.

“What I’m hearing from the grass roots, the P-Patch folks, the volunteers, is they don’t like the MPD. They don’t like that the board of directors is the City Council. And once it’s created, you can’t undo it. These are very pro-parks people,” said Don Harper, a Queen Anne resident and former member of the 2008 levy oversight committee.

But another resident, Erin Blakeney, of Capitol Hill, supported a parks district because it could raise more money for parks and eliminate the uncertainty of going back to voters every few years.

“The idea of permanently funding parks at a higher level is compelling to me. Parks has a lot of long-term needs,” she said.

About 60 people attended the meeting at the Chinatown-International District Community Center. It was the first of three scheduled by the Parks Legacy Committee, which will make a recommendation on a new funding measure to the mayor and City Council in March.

The 15-member citizen committee is asking for feedback on its recommendation that the top priority for new funding be reducing the estimated $270 million backlog in deferred maintenance across the parks system and restoring hours to community centers.

Included in that recommendation is increased preventive maintenance and a higher level of daily maintenance, including cleaner restrooms and more frequent litter pickup.

The 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy raised about $24 million per year to supplement the department’s general fund budget of about $90 million. The levy concentrated on acquiring new parkland and developing parks but did not include money for major maintenance or repairs.

Participants at the meeting also were asked what level funding they would support in a new ballot measure. Most chose one raising $40 million a year or more, arguing that under the current levy, the maintenance backlog grew.

“The more the backlog goes down, the more I’m willing to pay,” said Roger Pence, a Beacon Hill resident.

But participants disagreed sharply over the best funding mechanism. The Legacy Committee is considering four options — renewal of the current six-year levy, an eight-year levy, a permanent levy or the MPD.

The governing board of a Metropolitan Parks District could assess a tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, although the initial rate would likely be much lower than the maximum allowed by state law.

The current six-year levy cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $76 per year. A levy or an MPD assessment that raised $40 million per year would cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $125 per year.

Preliminary discussions have suggested that the City Council could serve as the governing board and the money raised by an MPD be added to the city’s current parks funding. The parks budget and work plan must be approved each year by the council.

John Barber, parks chairman for the Leschi Community Council, argued for renewal of the current measure. “A levy has the greatest accountability because Parks has to come back to the voters every six years and ask: ‘How are we doing?’ ”

After the meeting, some members of the Legacy Committee said their take-away was that advocates of an MPD would have to do more to ease voter concerns and confusion.

But another parks advocate, Beth Purcell, who chaired the 2008 parks levy planning committee, said, “To have people who are longtime parks supporters raising questions about an MPD is something we need to pay attention to.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes



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