Several community groups on Mercer Island are holding forums in the coming weeks to inform voters about the city’s November ballot measure, Proposition No. 1, before ballots are mailed on Oct. 17.
The Chamber of Commerce will host appointed community members from the pro and con committees from noon-1:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. The Beach Club will welcome two sets of panelists on the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ side from 7 p.m.-8 p.m. on Oct. 9. Probus Club and the Lakeridge PTA also are planning on hosting forums.
The ballot statement notes that the Mercer Island City Council is “proposing to increase the city’s regular property tax levy to fund public safety, youth, family, and senior services, and parks and recreation services.”
The proposition would sustain current levels of police and emergency services, as well as mental health counseling, parks and right-of-way maintenance and recreation services. It would increase the city’s regular property tax levy by $0.238/$1,000 to a maximum rate of $1.241/$1,000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2019, set the limit factor for 2020-2024 at 103 percent and use the 2024 levy amount to calculate subsequent levy limits.
The levy lift would cost the owner of an average Island home (with a median assessed value of $1.2 million) $286 in 2019, which would increase slightly after that for six years. This was an option recommended by 74 percent of the members of a Community Advisory Group convened by city manager Julie Underwood last fall.
Mercer Island city staff say they need additional revenue because cities are limited to raising property taxes by 1 percent per year — plus an allowance for new construction that equates to another 1 percent per year in Mercer Island, on average — but inflation and the cost of doing business are rising at a higher rate.
Though the council appointed the official pro and con committee members in July, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns seem to have started months before that. Currently, signs representing both sides can be seen near roads and in yards around the Island.
The pro committee consists of Leslie Meagley, John Stewart and former mayor Alan Merkle, and the con committee consists of Lisa Anderl, Heather Cartwright and former city council member Mike Cero.
Cero formed a political action committee (PAC) called Mercer Islanders for Sustainable Spending, which has raised more than $20,000 and has more than 350 endorsers, to oppose the measure. His group believes the city has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and the city should implement efficiency measures before going to voters for more money. Moms on a Budget is another PAC that has formed to oppose the measure.
Islanders Yes is the committee that supports the measure. According to the PDC, the group has raised more than $10,000. Several current city council members and Underwood, who lives on Mercer Island, have contributed.
According to its website, Islanders Yes believes that a “property tax measure is necessary now to 1) maintain the current levels of services that Islanders appreciate and 2) make sure we have sufficient reserves to weather any pending financial downturn.”
The percentage that property taxes will increase is expected to be a source of debate at the forums. Mercer Islanders for Sustainable Spending contend that city property taxes will go up 45 percent, while Islanders Yes says that Prop 1 will increase property taxes by less than 4 percent, as “Prop 1 only affects the small percentage of your property tax bill that is paid to Mercer Island,” according to its site.
See www.kingcounty.gov/elections for more general election information. Election Day is Nov. 6.