Parks levy set for Nov. to maximize votes

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Islanders will be asked about the amount of tax dollars they are willing to provide for park improvements in the coming weeks as the city completes a survey regarding the upcoming parks levy.

The survey, which will be conducted by phone interviews, is planned to take place soon, and the city hopes to gain a better understanding on what improvements residents would like done with their parks.

However, the date of the election was recently pushed back to the November ballot. Under the direction of the City Council, the city was on pace to have a special election in May, but the Council changed the date during its planning session in January.

Ian Stewart, a vice president of the company contracted to perform the survey, Evans/McDonough Consulting, advised the Council at its second January meeting that a special election in May would have a much different turnout.

“In May, you would expect the voters to be significantly older,” Stewart said. “In November, you’d see more younger residents and get a better picture of the whole Island. You’d get a full range of the different needs and desires.”

The city is currently devising a levy that would fund several years worth capital improvement projects for Island parks. The levy would also allow the operating costs of Luther Burbank Park to go into the city’s general fund, which pays for parks maintenance. Last year, the Council set the maximum limits to a $13.5-million, 15-year list of projects. It is possible the ballot measure would be less money and fewer years. The Council could also fund the improvements with a bond measure instead of a levy.

Councilmember Dan Grausz suggested the election should take place in May because he didn’t want the issue to get drowned by the highly publicized presidential and congressional races. The city, however, would have to pay extra for the special election, work fast and make important decisions quickly. According to Don Cohen, the chair of the stakeholders group, some of the members also thought that the given “time frame was too short to fully vet the issues.”

The Council’s “givens,” or preferred projects that made the initial list derived during the 2007 summer retreat, include several improvements at Luther Burbank Park and converting some existing playfields to field turf. At Luther Burbank, the Council advised city staff it wanted a small boat center, which Conrad dubbed “Myra’s Navy” in recognition of citizen activist Myra Lupton. The boat center would be a boat house possibly filled with kayaks, small sailboats, canoes and other non-motorized watercraft.Councilmembers also want a pedestrian-bike path that connects Luther Burbank with the Town Center, some hillside erosion repairs and some much-needed shoreline restoration.

However, the city will operate small-sailboat training and kayak tours from Luther Burbank this summer without purchasing the boats or constructing a storage facility.

If approved, the parks improvement levy would replace the six-year Luther Burbank levy currently in place, which voters approved in 2003 after the city obtained Luther Burbank from the county. That levy expires at the end of 2009. The average Island property owner currently pays about $50 per year for the existing Luther Burbank levy. Approval of the new parks levy this November would be a maximum net increase of about $60, should the city seek the maximum $13.5 million from voters.

A report with the survey results will be presented to the Council in May. The Council will be receiving the stakeholders recommendation in June and the legal resolution for the ballot measure must be adopted by Aug. 4.

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