Opinion

City spending beyond its means, vote ‘no’ on parks props

Thornton Gale, Ira Appelman, Marty Gale
Island Forum

Islanders should vote “no” on the excessive levy and bond propositions. Why can’t the city of Mercer Island learn to live within its budget?

Five years ago, the City Council proposed a one-time, limited Luther Burbank operations levy. We warned that if Islanders passed the levy, the Council would definitely be back for more.

They’re back!

Now the City Council has put two tax measures on the ballot: Proposition 2 more than doubles the original levy, and Proposition 1 creates an additional $12 million slush fund for capital expenditures.

Excessive levy

In the past, when we acquired a park, operations were funded in the current budget. King County spent a little over $200,000 maintaining Luther Burbank. Five years ago for the levy, the City Council nearly doubled that to $415,000.

In the Luther Burbank master planning process, the public provided direction that Luther Burbank operations funding should come from the general fund as it does for other parks. The City Council is ignoring that direction, expanding the levy from $415,000 to $900,000 a year and the duration from 6 years to 15 years.

Parks ‘slush fund’

Proposition 1 creates a parks slush fund to be used as the City Council dictates. The list of possible projects “may” or may not be constructed. The bond resolution language and Aug. 4 Council discussion make clear that this and future Councils can do whatever they want. Councilmember Grausz joked that the bonds were so vague, they could be used to construct a golf course in Pioneer Park!

In the 2007-2008 biennium, the city funded a lighted, artificial field at the middle school and Luther Burbank shoreline and dog-area improvements. The 2009-2010 biennial budget now under consideration can be used for more lighted, artificial fields and park and dog-area improvements if the Council chooses. The city averages over $1 million of surplus per year with $1.5 million now uncommitted in the Capital Reserve Fund.

Unprecedented tax increases

Mercer Islanders are facing enormous additional tax increases, including a $20 million-plus sewer lake line project, huge property tax assessment increases, the I-90 toll for the 520 bridge, another school bond likely in March; and a likely increase in sales tax for Sound Transit.

Now is not the time to pile on additional taxes for projects that should be funded from the city’s considerable resources. Rather than create a slush fund to satisfy well-connected special interests, if the Council believes a specific project cannot be funded, it should be placed on the ballot individually for a vote.

Questions for proponents

The parks proponents’ statement will appear next week. We suggest that you save this article and see whether proponents answer the following questions:

(1) Why are they proposing such large tax increases when Islanders already face other large tax increases in a difficult economy?

(2) When Councilmember Grausz complained and bond counsel confirmed that the bond language is so vague to allow building a golf course in Pioneer Park, why didn’t the City Council change the language?

(3) With a host of recent controversies such as the Council vote to reduce Island Crest Way to two lanes without public input, why shouldn’t Islanders demand specifics before voting additional funds?

Vote NO on both propositions. For documentation and additional details, visit www.livewithinbudget.org.

Island residents Marty and Thornton Gale and Ira Appelman are community activists.

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