If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
Parks are important, especially to children. Olympia’s parks are in trouble, yet I’m voting against Proposition 1.
Why? Because it won’t fix the problem. I’ll explain why and then discuss a proven alternative.
In 1994, the council created a 1 percent utility tax for parks. These funds were later diverted.
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In 1997, the council passed an ordinance to add another 0.5 percent utility tax for parks maintenance and bicycle facilities. These funds were also diverted.
In 2004, the council asked the voters to approve a 3 percent utility tax for parks and sidewalks, promising 500 acres of new parkland. The council expected this tax to bring in $2.25 million annually.
Despite the economic recession, it’s averaged $3 million annually (over $7 million extra to date). Yet we got only 63 new acres, and the city now reports that it’s $4 million behind in parks maintenance.
Now it’s 2015, and the council is asking the voters to create a council-run, city-only parks district and a new property tax (up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value). Is the fourth time the charm? No. And here’s why.
No plan: The city has no real business plan on how to spend the money. The council promised to have a plan next year, but would you go to the bank for a business loan and say to the loan officer, “Well, I don’t have a business plan. How about you loan me $500,000 now and I’ll give you one next year?” You’d get laughed out of the room.
No guarantees: The council recently passed an ordinance that creates a citizen advisory committee to oversee the proposed tax. The city already has a citizen parks advisory committee, and the 1994 and 1997 ordinances were still disregarded. An ordinance and citizen advisers clearly are no guarantee.
Stormwater ‘parks’: The city recently put down $400,000 to purchase two properties, which city staff have long identified as stormwater projects. The backers of Proposition 1 don’t want their houses flooded (understandable). But they’re proposing to use Proposition 1’s parks money — rather than stormwater funds — to pay for these stormwater projects.
Parks for children — yes! Parks for stormwater — no! Leave the parks money for the children.
The solution: We need look no further than national award-winning Metro Parks Tacoma. MPT is run by five independently elected parks commissioners and has over 100 years of proven success. Why does MPT work? Because all their time, energy and money are spent on parks. Even if they wanted to branch out and divert money, they can’t.
Next steps: Vote against Proposition 1, and then sign the upcoming voter petition to create an independently elected, regional parks district. We all use parks, and we all should chip in.
Parks and playgrounds are important. Let’s do this right. Vote no!
Karen Rogers is a former Olympia City Council member.