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Olympia park tax will go to voters in November election

A solitary basketball player takes advantage of an open court and sunshine at Sunrise Park in Olympia on March 26, 2015, ahead of the grand opening of the park’s new playground. The park is located at 505 Bing St. NW, and the new playground equipment replaced equipment that was 21 years old and at the end of its design life.
A solitary basketball player takes advantage of an open court and sunshine at Sunrise Park in Olympia on March 26, 2015, ahead of the grand opening of the park’s new playground. The park is located at 505 Bing St. NW, and the new playground equipment replaced equipment that was 21 years old and at the end of its design life. Staff photographer

This November, Olympia voters will decide whether to raise their taxes in the name of parks.

A divided Olympia City Council voted 4-3 at Tuesday’s meeting to put the Metropolitan Parks District on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. The district would charge taxpayers within city limits 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

If approved by voters, the district would generate about $3 million a year for park acquisition and maintenance, starting in early 2017.

The city is forming pro and con committees to prepare statements for the voters pamphlet. On the pro side, the city has appointed Councilman Jim Cooper, Cristiana Figueroa-Kaminsky and Gerald Reilly. Figueroa-Kaminsky has been active with the LBA Woods Park Coalition, and Reilly is part of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation.

The city still seeks committee members to provide statements against the proposed district.

Despite unanimous support for the district itself, three council members opposed the measure Tuesday because of concerns over unanswered questions. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, Steve Langer and Julie Hankins urged their colleagues to consider delaying the measure until February or April 2016.

In a joint statement, the dissenting council members said the proposed district fails to identify what will be purchased with district funds or how the public will be involved in such decisions. They also called for “a clear means of accountability” that is backed by a complete parks plan from the city’s parks department.

Langer also made a motion Tuesday to refer the proposal to the Land Use and Environment Committee and fine-tune it for the February ballot. However, the motion failed 3-4 with Langer, Buxbaum and Hankins on the losing end.

In supporting the push for the November ballot, Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said she would have preferred a 7-0 vote from her colleagues, but understood the need to act sooner rather than later.

One risk of waiting until the February ballot, Roe said, is that the proposed district would compete with a school bond. She added that putting the district on the November ballot will provide more time for parks staff to seek grant funding for possible park purchases such as the LBA Woods parcels in southeast Olympia.

“There’s extreme public momentum right now around our parks planning,” Roe said. “We need to move now.”

Cooper, who has led the district proposal as part of the city’s finance committee, reiterated the public’s support and appetite for parks. Although a public hearing for the district would have been welcome, he said, “the voters at the ballot box will be all the public hearing we need.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

ahobbs@theolympian.com

@andyhobbs

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