City drops plan for November parks levy vote

By Paul Archipley | Jul 25, 2013

Edmonds voters will have one less tax measure to ponder following Tuesday’s City Council decision to drop a planned parks levy from the November ballot.

The council’s unanimous decision followed a recommendation by a citizens committee – the Metropolitan Park District Exploratory Committee – that had been formed to explore new park revenue options for the cash-strapped city.

Expressing a sense of urgency, the committee had asked the council to place a measure for a parks levy lid lift on the ballot that would raise $2 million a year for three years.

The recommendation was part of a two-goal effort to maintain parks and, at the same time, free up funds for street maintenance and overlays. Both needs had been identified as high priorities in a recently adopted strategic plan.

The council followed the committee’s recommendation, passing Resolution 1290 last May that committed the city to consider a ballot measure for the November ballot.

So what changed?

It started with a slow but steady improvement in the economy, which has allowed city officials some guarded optimism that revenues will be better than previously forecast.

Carrie Hite, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director, said that property assessments recently have climbed an average of 10.9 percent. That will translate into higher revenues for the city.

Committee member Bruce Witenberg told the council Tuesday, “The city’s revenue picture has stabilized, so we don’t need to rush to a vote.”

By delaying consideration of a levy, the city would have time to focus on the street maintenance challenges as well as gear up for an education campaign if and when officials decide to move forward with the parks measure, Witenberg said.

Committee member Phil Lovell said that meeting with Mayor Dave Earling, Finance Director Roger Neumaier and other staff on July 14 “drove home the reality there’s not enough time” to put together a solid ballot measure and educate voters.

“We agree a lot of work needs to be done,” Lovell said, “such as further study and testing on the size of the levy.”

In addition, Director Hite said she had been talking with officials at the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that focuses on protecting land in and around cities.

In addition to helping build park areas across the country, Hite said the TPL offers assistance on public education and other help that could benefit efforts here.

“In deferring immediate action, we’re gaining additional study time,” she said.

She said a public-supported approach would make 2014 a better time to seek voter approval for new taxes.

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