Olympia voters will decide whether to raise taxes for the sake of parks as part of the Nov. 3 ballot.
Here are some of the arguments for and against the proposal.
Proposition One asks voters to approve or reject the formation of a Metropolitan Park District. If it passes by a simple majority, the proposal is expected to raise $3 million a year for park acquisition, development and maintenance, starting in 2017.
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Property owners in the city would be charged 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which is about $108 a year for a $200,000 house.
A new advisory committee would be set up to ensure the extra tax money is spent solely on parks. According to the plan, about $2 million from the tax collection would go toward park maintenance, and $1 million would go toward park acquisition.
The new tax does not expire. The city is also allowed to charge up to 75 cents per $1,000 in property value. In addition, the city can leverage the money for bonds.
If Proposition One fails, the city may need to make cuts across the park system, according to city officials.
The proposition’s most visible supporter is Yes Olympia Parks, a citizen group backed by Friends of the Waterfront, the LBA Woods Park Coalition, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation and others.
The idea for a Metropolitan Park District has been in the works all year, starting with the city’s finance committee. The city reports that one goal is to add sustainability and stability to Olympia’s park budget. Other supporters say the city needs more park land to accommodate a projected population growth of 20,000 new residents in the next 20 years.
Last spring, a survey of 4,000 Olympia households showed that 71 percent of respondents would support a tax increase to pay for acquisition and development of parks.
One survey question asked whether voters would trust the city to appropriately use the money from such a parks funding measure. Of those who responded, 10 percent said they would trust the city “completely,” 48 percent said they would trust the city “mostly,” and 28 percent said they would not trust the city with the money.
Those who have spoken against Proposition One say the proposal is flawed. One key point of contention is the lack of a specific plan for using the tax money. Opponents also say the proposal lacks any guarantees and that the city has a history of breaking promises with park tax money.
“We’ve been given a list of expensive projects that the city might do. Stop promising the stars and 500 acres,” according to a rebuttal statement in the voters pamphlet.
Former Olympia City Councilwoman Karen Rogers recently wrote an opinion piece for The Olympian that urged voters to reject the proposal. One suggestion is to scrap the Metropolitan Parks District and instead create a regional parks district with an independently elected board of commissioners, similar to Metro Parks Tacoma.
PARK ACQUISITION GOALS
The Olympia City Council recently approved options to buy two undeveloped parcels — totaling 149 acres — for future parks. However, city officials are counting on the Metropolitan Parks District to help with those purchases.
In July, the council approved an option to buy 74 acres next to LBA Park in southeast Olympia at a price tag of $5 million. In August, the council approved an option to buy the 75-acre Kaiser Heights property near Ken Lake on the city’s west side for $1.1 million.
In 2004, voters had approved a 3 percent tax with 2 percent of that total designated for the purchase of 500 acres of park land and 1 percent for sidewalks, as promised in the ballot measure. However, only 63 acres have been purchased since then, and the money from the voted utility tax ended up going toward basic park maintenance and operations.
IN THE MAIL
The city has mailed a flier that contains a list of frequently asked questions about the proposition. The flier comes with a disclaimer that reads “for information purposes only” and “this is not intended to support or oppose the proposition.”
According to Washington Administrative Code, a public agency like the city is allowed to make “an objective and fair presentation of facts relevant to a ballot proposition, if such action is part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.”
Parks director Paul Simmons said the total cost to print and mail the fliers was $8,660.
VOTING IN THE ELECTION
The Thurston County Auditor sent mail-in ballots Oct. 14 to registered voters. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 or submitted at one of 26 ballot drop boxes in the county. More information is available at co.thurston.wa.us/auditor.