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Parks levy winds its way to final approval

Shoreline restoration at Luther Burbank Park is part of the proposed parks levy. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Shoreline restoration at Luther Burbank Park is part of the proposed parks levy.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The city has all but officially established the parks levy and capital bond measure being brought before Island voters this fall.

In two separate votes last Monday, the City Council decided not to cut any specific projects from a recommended list devised by a community stakeholders group. However, it capped the costs of three categories of park improvements at $12 million. The Council also directed city staff to seek a 15-year levy of $900,000 a year for parks operation and maintenance costs.

The $12 million bond will now fund $6.3 million worth of improvements at Luther Burbank Park, invest $4.1 million in ballfields and $1.6 million in new trails.

“There are a lot of good projects here, and I don’t think any one of them necessarily has to come off,” Councilmember Dan Grausz said. “I suggest we leave the projects on so it’s flexible for future Councils.”

The Council agreed that new projects would not be added, but with the cut of $2.5 million from the stakeholders group recommendation, some projects might get removed or reduced in scope in the future.

The list of improvements for Luther Burbank would include the waterfront, off-leash area, playground, shoreline restoration, north wetland and swim beach.

New all-weather turf and lights would be installed at ballfields including Island Crest Park and the South Mercer Playfields. The city also plans to use the funds to construct a new trail in the recently acquired Engstrom Open Space, located adjacent to the northeastern quadrant of Pioneer Park. Various other trails could be enhanced, extended or improved with the remaining funds. Councilmember Mike Cero and Deputy Mayor El Jahncke dissented in the bond vote, which was approved 4-2. Councilmember Steve Litzow was absent.

If voters approve the measure this November, the city will begin prioritizing projects in 2009 according to what the stakeholders recommended and careful consideration of park or ballfield usage to not interfere with when the facilities are most needed.

Councilmember Cero explained his dissenting vote by saying he supported parks but thought the financial burden on Island taxpayers would be too high, given the slowing economy and recent approval of a School Board levy. If approved, both the bond and levy would add $100 a year of property taxes to the average $1 million Mercer Island home.

“The timing’s just not right,” Cero said of the tax increase to fund the measure. “All these projects are good projects. I just don’t see any that are so critical that we can’t wait 12 months.”

The levy will add $900,000 to the city’s general fund to be used to fund parks. Most of the money generated would fund Luther Burbank Park, which is currently funded from a six-year levy approved in 2003. The levy would also fund school-related parks expenses, such as the scheduler and athletic field maintenance, as well as new open spaces and Pioneer Park forest restoration. The Council approved the levy funding 5-1, with Cero dissenting.

Mayor Pearman said that it is now up to the voters to answer the call in support of parks.

“I see this as an investment in our infrastructure,” Pearman said. “It’s a quality of life issue that is giving people the opportunity to say yes or no and see if they want to do this.”

The Council is expected to approve the final language of the official ordinance that will appear on the ballot during their regular scheduled meeting on Aug. 4.

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