City council continues discussion on parks levy renewal measure

Council votes in favor of considering draft ballot measure ordinance.

Three Mercer Island residents spoke in favor of the city potentially placing a parks levy renewal measure on this November’s ballot, and the city council took a big step toward possibly making that happen after a lengthy discussion at its June 21 meeting.

Following City Manager Jessi Bon’s second proposed levy renewal presentation — the initial run-through was on June 7 — council unanimously voted to consider a staff- and legal counsel-prepared draft ballot measure ordinance of the 16-year levy for a first reading on July 5 and a second reading and potential adoption on July 19.

The staff-recommended proposal includes the base parks levy and full funding for ongoing playground replacements and increased annual funding for the entire scope of Pioneer Park Forest Management Plan restoration projects, except for the second phase of tree planting.

If adopted, the levy would be placed on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot, a full year ahead of the current levy’s expiration date. Deadline to submit ballot materials, including pro and con statements, to King County Elections is Aug. 2. If the new levy is placed on the ballot and passes, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

At the June 7 meeting, Bon said that because of the immense effort that council put into adopting the six-year PROS (Parks, Recreation and Open Space) Plan on March 1, city staff felt it was go-time to propose an early levy renewal.

According to a previous Reporter article, the current levy’s funding stands at $980,122 for parks operations and maintenance ($728,122) and capital projects ($252,000). With the city applying a 1% increase, the new levy would roll out at $989,923 with $735,403 for parks operations and maintenance and $254,520 for capital projects.

Following the vote on June 21, councilmember Jake Jacobson praised the Open Space Conservancy Trust volunteer members’ steadfast work in that realm and amplifying public interest and participation.

Deputy Mayor David Rosenbaum added: “One of the big takeaways from the presentation is how important Islanders consider their parks. I think we have to do this just right because we need to get this funding done to continue that level of satisfaction that we saw in the PROS Plan survey and satisfaction survey we saw today.”

The current parks and operations and maintenance budget is listed at $2.34 million and focuses on tending to parks, athletic and school fields and trails.

On the parks front, Bon said that all Island playground structures — with the exception of Mercerdale Park and the dragon at Deane’s Children’s Park — will need to be replaced over the lifespan of the levy at an estimated cost of $7,150,890.

“This is really consistent with all the playground replacements that our goal is to diversify our play opportunities throughout the Island. Moving forward, we certainly want to be creative and spread out those opportunities,” said Bon, adding that the city is focused on making ADA upgrades and accessibility wherever possible.

The three resident supporters — Open Space Conservancy Trust members Craig Olson, Marie Bender and Thomas Hildebrandt — stepped up to the podium during the appearances segment of the meeting and spoke specifically about the importance of the Pioneer Park portion of the levy renewal.

In addition to tree planting, Pioneer Park tasks include removing ground ivy and herbaceous and invasive species, monitoring streams and wetlands and park boundaries for new invasive species, treating invasive tree species and creating ivy survival rings, according to Bon’s presentation.

The tasks are “vital to the forest’s long-term health, by improving its resilience to the effects of climate change and reducing the risk of wildfire,” the report notes.