The Council Committee on Parks Funding is planning to send a ballot measure to the voters this August that would create a sustainable and dedicated funding source for our parks. I'm sure you're already familiar with levies, but what is the proposed Seattle Park District and why is this funding option being considered?
Why a Seattle Park District
Seattleites love their parks, and surveys and public comments demonstrate that people want MORE from our Parks Department and they want our parks to last. Seattle residents have asked for MORE community centers, MORE hours, MORE year-round ball fields, MORE dog parks, MORE pre-school facilities, MORE urban forest canopy, and MORE restroom maintenance. I want these things too, so long as we can afford them.
The financial reality is that the costs to care for our growing parks system have increased while our Parks suffered budget constrictions. During the last few tough budget years, the Parks Department significantly reduced programs and services.
We asked Parks to tighten its belt during the Great Recession and it did. It listened to national experts to establish best practices. Parks was required to patch again, rather than replace, roofs, boilers, HVAC systems, and electrical systems. It cut back community center hours and restroom clean-ups in response having to lay off 10% of its employees, and Parks land-banked properties rather than developing new neighborhoods parks.
We now face a $267 million major maintenance backlog, and Seattle like all Washington cities, is limited in the amount of levy funds we can raise to address the needs. For our own peace of mind as well as for our kids and grandchildren we must care for the park system for the long haul.
Yes, the amount the City can legally raise through another short-term levy will help address some immediate maintenance needs, but it would not provide enough money for future investments, expanded programs, or continued maintenance upgrades recommended by our Parks Legacy Citizens Advisory Committee and the Mayor.
The Seattle Park District is authorized under state law
A Park District is a legal entity, authorized under state law that creates a method for long-term, sustainable funding for parks. District tax revenues are limited to property tax and here's the big news: the monies raised by the Park District can ONLY be used for parks and recreation purposes. And the City of Seattle's general fund will continue to fund parks at the current $89 million level, so new funds will not supplant old funds. Our Parks will have money to fix what we have and maintain our facilities well, even when we face cyclical economic downturns.
The Seattle Park District is governed by a Board and is accountable to voters
Under Mayor Murray's proposal, the Seattle Park District would be governed by a Board comprised of the elected members of the Seattle City Council. All local, state, and federal laws such as public records, open public meetings, and wages would be applicable to the Seattle Park District. The proposal also establishes a Citizens Oversight Committee and adds internal and external experts to assure accountability and to track Parks performance and make recommendations about Parks future spending.
The City of Seattle will continue to own and maintain all City parks and facilities
Yes, the City will continue to own the parks and maintain the facilities. Under the current proposal, the District and the City would sign a legally binding contract that;
- Directs all District funding to the Seattle Parks Department;
- Retains all current and future park acquisitions in City of Seattle ownership; and
- Assures that all Parks employees will remain City of Seattle employees.
Here's the link to my recent blog post for more detail.
You can find the complete FAQ on the Park District here.
The proposed Seattle Park District will be accountable to voters, responsive to the growing needs of our City, and make our forbearers and grandchildren proud that we are caring for their park system responsibly.
As always, I appreciate your support for our City and your thoughts.
For More Information:
C.B. 118055 - Proposal to create the Seattle Park District
C.B. 118056 - Proposed interlocal agreement between the City and the Seattle Park District
Committee on Parks Funding
Committee on Parks Funding Meeting Schedule:
Monday, April 14th at 2:30 p.m. (or after Full Council)
Monday, April 21st at 2:30 p.m. (or after Full Council)