Seattle Parks District Proposition Ahead In Tuesday Primary

Aug 6, 2014

Credit Flickr Photo/John Biehler (Cc-BY-NC-ND)

Seattle’s Prop 1 is ahead 52.4 to 47.6 percent in Tuesday’s primary election totals. The measure would change the way park maintenance is funded. Supporters promise parks that are better maintained; opponents say accountability will be the challenge.

Proposition 1, which would change how parks are funded in Seattle, was ahead on Tuesday night as the first batch of votes were counted. Supporters of the measure say parks would be better maintained; opponents say accountability would be a challenge.  

The proposition would signal the end of parks levies, which require voter approval, and the beginning of a new park district governed by the Seattle City Council.  

Former parks superintendent Ken Bounds chaired the campaign in support of Prop 1. He said if Tuesday’s initial results hold true, city parks would have a stable, perpetual funding source. 

“We’re pleased with the results so far,” he said. “We think if they hold up, Seattle citizens are going to see improvements in their parks in the long run, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Starting in 2016, the new parks district will collect property taxes to replace the levy. The amount would be just a hair more than what homeowners already pay through the parks levy – the owner of a house assessed at $400,000 would pay $4 more per month.

Bounds said the funding will make a serious dent in the city’s $267 million parks maintenance backlog. It will fund renovations to leaky roofs and picnic shelters.

Voters could still see a bond measure or levy for an ambitious new park someday, but routine maintenance will be funded without ballot measures. Bounds said the concept of the Metropolitan Park District is hard to explain, so he braced himself for a tough campaign. 

“I always looked at it as a complicated structure but a simple result, and the simple result was dedicated money for parks that couldn’t be spent on anything else,” he said.

But opponents say they prefer the existing levy system because the new district gives voters less control.

“Now it will be up to the citizens to hold the City Council and the mayor responsible for what they’ve now created,” said Don Harper, who led the campaign against Prop 1. “Even though the Metropolitan Parks District doesn’t have to answer to them.”

Harper said the parks district and its priorities won’t be subject to elections, and voters can’t undo the district once it’s established. The League of Women Voters also recommended against the new parks district, saying it allows the City Council to usurp the mayor’s authority.

“The primary role of the City Council should be legislative, not administrative,” the league wrote.