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Pro Parks Levy Q & A
HOW MUCH IS THE LEVY AND WHAT WOULD IT FUND?
The Pro Parks 2000 Levy, approved by voters on November 7, 2000, the "levy lid lift"—the technical term for the proposition—would allow the City to increase regular property taxes for up to eight years for a total of up to $198.2 million. The levy is designed to fund more than 100 projects to improve maintenance and enhance programming of existing parks, including the Woodland Park Zoo; acquire, develop and maintain new neighborhood parks, green spaces, playfields, trails and boulevards; and add out-of-school and senior activities. The levy will also fund an acquisition and development "opportunity fund."
Beginning in 2001, the levy is expected to cost a Seattle homeowner approximately 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. In each of the remaining years of the levy, the rate is expected to be just over 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. So for example, the owner of a $261,900 house (the estimated average assessed value of a home in Seattle in 2000 for calculation of 2001 taxes) would pay about $92 in 2001. By 2008, the last year in the levy period, an average home is projected to be assessed at $337,740, and the owner of such a house would pay about $112 under this levy.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LEVY AND A BOND?
A "levy lid lift"—sometimes referred to as a "levy"—is a financing mechanism in which voters agree to raise their property taxes for public purposes. The taxing authority is within the regular rate limit set by state law of $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. A levy requires a "simple majority" (more than 50%) approval from the voters. It can pay for capital projects as well as for operations and maintenance.
A voter-approved bond issue is a financing mechanism in which voters authorize the City to sell bonds and pay the principal and interest on the borrowed money with property taxes in excess of the $3.60 per $1,000 assessed value limit. With a single vote, voters can authorize the City to issue bonds to finance capital projects that are similar in purpose—such as parks and recreation projects—but not for operations or to replace equipment. The bonds, including interest, are usually paid off in 10 to 30 years—similar to paying a mortgage for a house. A bond issue with excess taxes to pay back the debt requires a "super majority" (more than 60 percent) approval and a minimum number of overall voters on the issue.
HOW WERE THE INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS SELECTED?
A group of citizens called the Parks 2000 Citizens’ Planning Committee examined the existing parks and recreation system, neighborhood plans and other plans (mentioned above), developed selection criteria, considered public input from an extensive public involvement process, and with the assistance of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Neighborhoods, developed a $200 million package of park, recreation and green space projects to recommend to Mayor Paul Schell. The committee considered geographic equity as well as the balance among various funding categories (acquisition, development, maintenance, etc.).
The Mayor’s Office amended the package to include inflation and funding for the Seattle Chinese Garden for a total package costing $223 million. The City Council then made adjustments to Mayor’s proposal and reduced the levy to its final amount of $198.2 million.
WHAT IS THE PRO PARKS 2000 CITIZENS’ PLANNING COMMITTEE?
At the request of Mayor Schell and Councilmember Nick Licata, Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds and Board of Park Commissioner Margaret Ceis convened the committee, comprised of 26 Seattle citizens with varied backgrounds and active involvement in community and parks and recreation issues. The group met twice monthly for 10 months to discuss and develop recommendations on a funding mechanism and a package of projects.
HOW WERE PROJECT COSTS ESTIMATED?
Parks staff estimated acquisition and development costs for individual projects and parcels of land based on budgets of similar past projects and market value for particular properties.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LEVY ADOPTED BY CITY COUNCIL AND THE PACKAGE PROPOSED BY MAYOR PAUL SCHELL?
The City Council reduced Mayor Schell’s $223 million proposal by removing the inflation factor for some projects and reducing it for others, trimming the Opportunity Fund by $10 million, reducing the greenbelts and natural areas acquisition fund by $2 million, cutting Seattle Chinese Garden funding, delaying first-year funding for maintenance and recreation programs, and shifting some costs of enhanced maintenance of existing facilities to the City’s general fund. The Council also added $600,000 for the Magnuson Park Off Leash Area.
WHAT IS THE "OPPORTUNITY FUND" AND HOW WOULD IT WORK?
The Acquisition and Development Opportunity Fund will fund new acquisition and development projects identified by neighborhood groups, with priority given to projects in areas presently underserved as defined in the Seattle Parks and Recreation Plan 2000, projects in areas growing in population, and projects in the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas. The Parks and Green Spaces (Pro Parks) Levy Oversight Committee will establish additional criteria to guide its recommendations to the Superintendent of Parks, the Mayor and City Council for use of this money.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE "LEVY OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE"?
The Mayor and City Council will appoint the 16 members of the Committee (eight each by the Mayor and Council); it will include six members to represent geographic diversity, one member of the Board of Park Commissioners, initially four PRO Parks 2000 Citizens’ Planning Committee members, and the balance from various other constituencies. See the Committee home page.
The Committee will meet regularly with the Superintendent, review the expenditure of the levy proceeds, and make recommendations to the Superintendent, Mayor and City Council regarding the use of levy funds. The committee will also develop an application process for the $10 million opportunity fund and eventually make recommendations on projects.
WHY AREN'T PARK MAINTENANCE AND RECREATION PROGRAMMING INCLUDED IN THE EXISTING PARKS OPERATING BUDGET?
The normal "operating budget" for Parks and Recreation includes funding for maintenance and programming. However, the demand for improved routine maintenance is a consistent comment from park users and is mentioned in many neighborhood plans. The levy includes funding for facility cleaning during high-use periods, maintenance of existing parks, and youth and senior programs. Over the multi-year course of the levy, it is planned that some of the costs of enhanced maintenance of existing facilities would be shifted to the City’s general fund.
Last Update June 7, 2007
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