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How to pay for Luther Burbank

Instead of asking citizens to renew the expiring levy for Luther Burbank Park, city officials plan to develop a list of needed park improvements and ask voters to approve it next year.

During its summer planning session on June 16, the City Council directed city manager Rich Conrad and his staff to come up with a plan to fund several capital improvement projects throughout the Island’s parks.

The Council’s “givens,” or preferred projects that made the initial list, 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 watercraft. Council members also want a pedestrian-bike path that connects Luther Burbank with the Town Center, some hillside erosion repairs and some much-needed shoreline restoration.

The city also will seek public input for selecting other park projects. In order to determine the list of improvements, officials want to create a stakeholders group composed of representatives from all of the Island’s park users. Those groups will ultimately devise a recommendation of the most desirable park improvements and present it to the council.

“They are actually going to be the people who sell [the plan] to the public,” Conrad said of the focus group. “They’ll all have to learn to work together and compromise, which will be a good thing.”

Islanders will have to approve the final list of projects and the associated cost in the general election of November 2008. Council members asked Conrad to come back with a plan that would upgrade, repair and modify numerous parks for the next 15 years, without spending more than $900,000 per year.

If the council decides to seek the maximum 15-year, $13.5 million measure, it would increase property taxes by about $100 per household according to an informal estimate by city finance director Chip Corder. The average Island property owner currently pays about $50 per year for the existing Luther Burbank levy, meaning there would be an incremental increase of about $50.

Rather than ask the public to renew the Luther Burbank levy, the Council decided to transfer the operating and maintenance costs of Luther Burbank into the city’s general fund, along with all the other parks. However, the funds that are typically used for park improvements will be lost by the addition of Luther Burbank.

The city’s operating and maintenance costs are typically paid for from its general fund, which gets revenue through conventional tax dollars, such as sales tax. Capital improvement projects traditionally are paid for with voter-approved levy dollars. Islanders approved a six-year levy to fund Luther Burbank Park after the city acquired it from the county in 2003. That levy expires at the end of 2009.

Conrad said he hopes the city will have developed a plan by the end of this year. In the first few months of 2008, the Council will have the opportunity to fine tune the recommendation from the stakeholders group. Officials plan to have the official ballot measure ready in May 2008, in time for the November ballot.

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