A new group called Yes Olympia Parks will campaign on behalf of a proposed tax increase to support a new Metropolitan Park District.
In the Nov. 3 general election, voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1, which calls for creation of the district.
If the proposition is approved, the district would generate about $3 million a year for park acquisition and maintenance, starting in 2017. Taxpayers within city limits would be charged 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — about $108 a year for a $200,000 house.
The citizens who formed Yes Olympia Parks say the proposed tax will help stabilize the park system. The group is backed by Friends of the Waterfront, the LBA Woods Park Coalition, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation and other groups.
Without the new tax dollars, the city will be unable to buy more park land, officials say. The city faces least a $3 million shortfall by 2019 without any new sources of revenue and already struggles to maintain its park inventory.
Former mayor Bob Jacobs said parks are critical to the community’s quality of life, especially with a predicted population growth of 20,000 people in the next 20 years.
“Those people need places to recreate,” Jacobs told The Olympian’s editorial board earlier this month.
Jacobs said the Yes Olympia Parks effort will be run like any other campaign, with plenty of signs and doorbelling. Several yellow and blue signs are already popping up with messages such as “Parks: For us ... for the future.”
The proposal appears to have solid support among voters. About 71 percent of residents who participated in a survey last spring said they would support a tax increase to pay for parks.
“There’s so much enthusiasm for this to go forward,” said Cristiana Figueroa-Kaminsky, co-chairwoman of Yes Olympia Parks and board member of the LBA Woods Park Coalition. The coalition has been pushing for the city to buy and preserve 74 acres in southeast Olympia. Some proceeds from the Metropolitan Tax District are expected to go toward the site’s $5 million price, if the proposition is approved.
Figueroa-Kaminsky also is part of a committee that will prepare a statement in the voters pamphlet in favor of Proposition 1. The committee includes Olympia City Council member Jim Cooper and Gerald Reilly of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation.
But the proposition does have opponents. The Thurston County Auditor reported that a committee has signed up to prepare a statement against the ballot measure. That committee consists of Glen Morgan, Conner Edwards and Steve Owens. All three have been involved in local politics and the Republican party.
Morgan, who serves on the Rochester School Board, said the committee is still finalizing details for the statement against the park district.
“It’s always in everyone’s best interest to present both sides of the issue,” Morgan said. “There’s always two sides.”
One criticism that has surfaced is whether the money for the Metropolitan Park District will be “cannibalized” to cover funding gaps in other city departments.
That’s what happened with a 3 percent tax increase that voters approved in 2004. Instead of using the money to buy 500 acres of park land, as promised, the city used the money for basic maintenance and operation expenses. City officials attribute the decision to the recession and the financial challenges that came with it.
However, the Metropolitan Park District comes with provisions that protect the park dollars. The ordinance guarantees that “district funding will supplement and protect existing City of Olympia parks funding.”
If the district is approved in November, a five-person citizens advisory committee would be created to oversee the district.