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Originally published Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:22 PM

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Citizens panel calls for vote on new Seattle parks district

A parks committee has recommended asking voters to approve creation of a Metropolitan Parks District in November to provide a permanent source of funding to address a big maintenance backlog and other needs in the parks system.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A citizens committee Thursday night recommended creating a new, permanent taxing district that would raise $57 million a year for Seattle parks after the current levy expires this year.

In an 11-1 vote, the Parks Legacy Committee approved forwarding to the mayor and City Council a proposal to create a Metropolitan Parks District with its own taxing authority to address an almost $270 million backlog in parks maintenance and to restore community-center hours that were cut during the recession.

The measure more than doubles the current six-year levy, which raised about $24 million a year. It’s also more than the largest amount — $54 million — presented during public meetings in January, during which participants were asked what funding level they would support.

Committee members said that the maintenance backlog continued to grow under the current levy and that a new revenue stream is needed to fully fund major repairs and to restore and expand popular programs.

Under the recommendation, the Seattle City Council would serve as the governing board for the parks district. The proposal includes creation of a citizen oversight committee to monitor levy spending and work plans, and it adds about $1.8 million annually for performance management and accounting.

The committee also recommended the measure include language to protect parks’ current city funding — about $90 million annually.

If approved by the City Council, the measure could appear on the August primary ballot.

The recommendation was made over the objection of some park activists and volunteers who believe creation of a parks district would be like giving a blank check to the parks department without adequate oversight or accountability.

During the January meetings, many residents expressed reservations about an independent taxing district and about the City Council serving as the governing body.

Opponents favored a levy that requires the Parks Department to return to voters every few years to set priorities and make a case for continued funding.

Mayor Ed Murray spoke in favor of the district at the committee’s previous meeting, saying the current levy wasn’t cutting the maintenance backlog. He also cited polling done on behalf of the Seattle Parks Foundation that showed 61 percent of likely voters would support creation of a parks district.

The 2008 levy raised millions of dollars for acquisition of land but didn’t include money for major maintenance. Some of the land acquired hasn’t been developed because of the lack of money for upkeep.

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305.

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