Mercer Island Reporter


King County Executive proposes parks replacement levy for August ballot

Mercer Island Reporter Staff
February 22, 2013 · Updated 9:57 AM

Acting upon recommendations from a citizen task force, King County Executive Dow Constantine on Thursday sent the King County Council a proposed a six-year, $360 million Parks Levy for the August primary that would enable voters to replace two parks levies that will expire at the end of this year.

"This measure is essential to taking care of the extraordinary network of parks and trails our parents and grandparents have left us, and keeping them clean, safe and open," said Constantine in a press release.

"Preserving our last, best places has been a priority for this region for several decades," he added. "This measure would help us protect areas nearly the size of Discovery Park every year for the next six years."

The proposal transmitted today would enable voters to replace two expiring King County Parks levies with one that would generate about $60 million a year from 2014 through 2019, through a property tax levy lid lift of 18.91 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – an estimated $64 per year for the owner of a home valued at $340,000.

About 80 percent of the levy would continue the levels of service provided by the current levies.

If approved by voters, the measure would fund maintenance and operation of King County’s 200 parks, 175 miles of regional trails, and 26,000 acres of open space. It would also:

• Acquire or protect about 450 acres of critical open space per year – or 2,700 acres over the six-year levy period – for protection of forests, habitat and water quality for fish and wildlife, and improvement of opportunities for public recreation

• Fund planning and design work with nine South County and Eastside cities for two major, long-term trail corridors – the Eastside Rail Corridor and the Lake to Sound Trail in South King County– which will ultimately add more than 20 new miles of public trails

• Repair or replace 14 historic bridges and trestles in the trails system to avoid safety hazards or closure that could disrupt more than 40 miles of trails

• Complete missing links in the regional trails system and connections to transit and civic hubs

• Develop trailheads and parking lots to improve public access to up to 8,400 acres of existing parks and 140 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, including such locations as Cougar Mountain and Pinnacle Peak.

Each of the 39 cities in King County would benefit from a combined $4.2 million annually to fund park and trail improvements in local communities. Another $4.2 million a year would help fund animal care and conservation, and education and environmental programs at the regional Woodland Park Zoo for school children from all parts of King County.

The executive’s proposal shares the vision of recommendations from the 21 business and civic leaders who served on the King County Parks Levy Task Force. The panel recommended a levy rate that was 0.1 of a cent per 1,000 higher.

"The Parks Division has done an excellent job navigating these difficult economic times, and it was clear to Task Force members that now is the time to make repairs and improvements that have been delayed," said Louise Miller, Task Force Co-Chair and former county councilmember.

The Executive and Task Force shared strong agreement on the goals of the levy proposal:

• Taking care of King County’s existing system of parks and trails

• Stewarding regional open space and natural lands, connecting habitat important for fish and wildlife, and providing recreation opportunities

• Improving regional trails and mobility, ensuring essential connections are completed and existing trails are maintained

• Making parks and recreation opportunities more accessible for all King County residents to enjoy.

"Both agreed that now is the time to protect and preserve the assets in which our residents have invested for more than seven decades, while also preparing to meet the future needs of our region," said Christie True, director of King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

Since 2002, King County Parks has focused on providing regional parks and trails, natural areas and local rural parks. It developed a financial model through voter-approved levies, by generating business revenue through entrepreneurial and enterprise activities, and by developing community and corporate partnerships to enhance parks amenities and reduce the burden for taxpayers.

In 2007, King County voters approved two parks-related levies: One to support operations and maintenance, and one to support open space protection and regional trail development for the County and its 39 cities, as well as operations, programs and capital improvements at the zoo.

King County Parks celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and the executive said the ballot measure would invest in the future of the system.

The King County Council will decide whether to place the replacement measure on the ballot, and when.

To learn more about King County Parks and the Executive’s 2013 Levy Proposal, and to see the citizen Task Force report, visit www.kingcounty.gov/parks/levy.

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