After months of discussion, a pair of park summits and then nearly an hour of comments Tuesday, the Bonney Lake city council voted to place a metropolitan parks district on the April ballot.
The ordinance passed 5-2, with Councilmembers Katrina Minton-Davis and Randy McKibbin voting against it.
Those in favor again stated their belief that a metropolitan parks district is the best way to create a dedicated funding source for parks in the city, as well as their decision that allowing voters to choose on the additional tax was the proper move.
If approved by a majority of voters, the park district would allow the district – which would contiguous with the city’s borders – to levy a tax that would be used only for parks. The maximum levy allowed by law is $0.75 per $1,000 assessed home value, though the discussions have centered on a tax a little more than half that amount.
The city estimates a levy of about $0.44 per $1,000 assessed home value, or about $95 per year for someone owning a home valued at $215,000, the Bonney Lake average.
Studies have routinely shown that Bonney Lake park land has failed to keep pace and is well below expert recommendations for parkland given the size of it population, which has nearly doubled since 2000.
The city council would become the park district’s governing body.
“Voters have a right to decide on the issue,” Councilman Donn Lews said, adding that he thinks an MPD will provide the structure needed to build up the city’s park systems.
“It’s a start and it allows us to go forward with a plan,” he said.
Councilman Mark Hamilton called the decision to place the MPD on the ballot “extremely difficult for me.” Hamilton said he has trust in the voters and knows that parks has been a priority of the voters and the council and the mayor for years, but has been lacking a funding mechanism.
“This is a bedroom community,” Hamilton said. “One of the things it’s lacked is a good parks system.”
Though not perfect, Hamilton said the MPD provides a way to build new park facilities and maintain them.
“In the overall scheme of things … it is the best overall financing plan the city has come up with,” Hamilton said.
Those opposed to placing an MPD on the ballot worried about the increase in property taxes being more than the citizens can handle at this point, a point echoed by many of those who spoke on the matter during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.
Minton-Davis said she had been waffling on her vote and that her family had also suffered during the economic downturn and therefore she “could not in good conscious be in favor of it.”
McKibbin was a little more vague in his reasoning, stating he would vote no because “you don’t need my yes vote.”
Prior to the vote, several residents urged the council not to place the item on the ballot.
Shawnta Mulligan told the council that placing a measure that could place an additional tax burden on residents was a “betrayal” of the citizens who elected them and said she does not appreciate the attempt to subvert the 2/3 majority necessary for a tax increase by placing a measure on the ballot that would only need a simple majority for approval.
In total at least six citizens, including park board member Jaime Trejo, who at the park board level voted against recommending the city council place this on the ballot, urged the council not to place the measure on the ballot, mostly citing economic concerns.
A handful of residents, including park board member Jim Bouchard and planning commissioner Winona Jacobsen, spoke in favor of the district.
Mayor Neil Johnson thanked all those who spoke for their input and reiterated his view that a funding mechanism for parks is necessary for longterm viability.
“This city needs to develop for the future,” he said. “If we keep looking at today, we won’t move forward.”
The issue will be on the April 23, 2013 special election ballot.
This story has been corrected. In the original, Winona Jacobsen was listed as a member of the park board. She is a member of the Planning Commission.