Most Seattleites love their parks and will pay for them with a levy. In fact, the Our Parks Forever campaign — which opposes Proposition 1, as does the League of Women Voters — wants the Seattle City Council to put a parks’ levy on an upcoming ballot.
Levies name each project to be financed, ensure funding for neighborhood parks (like Smith Cove), are transparent and give residents control and oversight.
Prop. 1 — on the Aug. 5 ballot, to create a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) —does not have those safeguards.
An MPD is not a levy. It must be stated, emphatically, once again: An MPD is not a levy.
It’s a permanent, separate, Washington state-chartered, taxing authority that can raise property taxes for Seattle’s parks up to 75 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value, which equates to a 21-percent increase in our property-tax lid.
The MPD board can just, in effect, notify themselves (not the taxpayers) because the City Council also sits as the board of directors for the MPD/Seattle Park District. The general public is shut out of all major decisions regarding the amount of their taxes and how their tax money will be appropriated.
No guaranteed projects
Furthermore, there is no list of specific projects included in the MPD that the City Council would be obligated to fund.
Although Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw stated that failure of Prop. 1 means that the development of Smith Cove Park will not occur in the foreseeable future, the passage of the proposition does not guarantee that funds will be appropriated by the City Council.
The line items (such as Smith Cove Park development) are just suggested recommendations and are not included in the MPD’s charter. If an MPD is created, distribution of funds will be determined by the City Council after the Aug. 5 election.
This procedure differs from a levy, in which all projects to be funded are listed in levy documents.
To reiterate, City Council members will also serve as the board of directors for the MPD/Seattle Park District.
Conflicts of interest are inherent in this configuration. The general public can never be certain that the preferred projects of wealthy, well-connected persons and groups (such as the grand waterfront park) won’t divert funds from neighborhood projects.
Of course, Bagshaw will promote funds for the development of Smith Cove because she hopes our district will reelect her to City Council in 2015. There is no assurance that other council members who are elected by district will consider Smith Cove a top priority.
If we were to vote for a levy and Smith Cove were to be a named project, we would be certain that it would be financed.
Once again, there are no guaranteed projects with an MPD. You’re giving council members a blank check — permanently — and citizens can’t dissolve the MPD. Only the Seattle City Council could dissolve the MPD.
Bring back the levies
Our fabulous parks have been financed for about 100 years with levies that provide maximum accountability and citizen involvement.
The proponents of the MPD have promised to set the initial tax rate at 33 cents per $1,000 to get your vote. Once the MPD is approved, the City Council can raise the rate up to 75 cents, without ever asking the taxpayers. There will not be any more elections to get your approval.
And believe it, the City Council can increase the 33-cent rate just by giving themselves 180 days’ notice of an increase change.
If you vote for an MPD/Seattle Park District (Prop. 1), you’re voting to allow the City Council to increase your property taxes up to 75 cents extra per $1,000 of assessed value.
Love and support Seattle’s parks. Vote no on the MPD.
Tell council members you’ll vote for a future levy so that you’ll know exactly which projects your taxes will fund and so that you can influence and evaluate future parks decisions.
SHARON LeVINE is a longtime board member of the Queen Anne Community Council and its Parks Committee. She is also a founding member of Citizens for Off-Leash Areas (COLA). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.