King County wants to renew its parks levy on the August 6 primary ballot. The package would continue current maintenance, and include new money for open space and trail construction.
If it’s approved, the levy would generate $396 million dollars in property taxes over six years. It would cost property tax payers almost 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – for the owner of a $300,000 home that comes to $56 dollars per year.
Most of the levy funds would go to continue operations.
But twenty percent would go to buy 2,700 acres of open space near existing parks and to build regional trails. Katy Terry is assistant director of King County parks. She says the levy will fund work on the Eastside Rail Corridor and the Lake to Sound Trail. “That connects five cities, basically going from Renton over to the Sound, cities that have typically been underserved in terms of regional trail access,” she said.
The levy would also add $240,000 to the money available for community grants like the one used to build a lacrosse field with synthetic turf at Big Finn Hill Park in Kirkland. Terry says those grants are important because they help the county leverage other community and private investments. Having synthetic turf also means fewer games are canceled and therefore more fees for the Parks Division from teams that use the field.
This park is home to several baseball diamonds as well. But neighbor Dan Barton says he didn’t just want it to be a sports complex. He pushed for, and got, a playground for local kids. He keeps a watchful eye on the park. “It’s used quite a bit,” he noted. “It’s a nice place, couldn’t ask for better. One of the few things government does right.”
Barton said he’ll likely support the levy. “I’d probably pay it, if I know it’s going to parks,” he said.
Bob Gerrish is another neighbor who visits Big Finn Hill frequently, especially now that he’s adopted a shelter dog named Lola who needs lots of walks. Gerrish said his wife is on the trails committee for the park. “We come out and work in the work parties in the park here and help clean up invasive plants,” he said.
So they might seem like shoe-ins to vote for this levy. But Gerrish said he was laid off almost a year ago and if he doesn’t have a job by the time he casts his ballot, he’ll seek a break in his property taxes and vote the levy down. “For those of us out of work at this point it’s really a financial burden even to pay the levy,” he said.
Parks officials say there’s no backup plan if voters don’t pass this levy. But the task force members that developed the levy said parks deserve support from the general fund. King County eliminated that support completely in 2011. Task force members warn that funding the parks by endless levies could lead to voter exhaustion.