Help keep island’s parks thriving
October 10, 2008 · Updated 5:29 PM
Earlier this year two surveys were conducted on Bainbridge Island to gather information about how islanders prioritize public services. Both surveys (sponsored separately by the city and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park District) found that residents value open space above most other public services and would be willing to pay to continue to provide these kinds of amenities. In response to these survey findings, the Metro Park District Board, in its usual decisive fashion, voted to place a measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to support open space, trails and parks. A victory for Proposition One will support a truly comprehensive parks system for current and future islanders.
The district receives operating funds from a property tax levy that is legally limited to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and increases in revenues from the levy are capped at 1 percent per year. Because of the rapid increase in property values since 2005, the allowable levy rate increase could not keep pace, resulting in a current effective levy rate of 57.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The 1 percent cap, however, isn’t the only source of financial pressure squeezing the Metro Park District. Most of the open-space lands that the city acquired with the 2000 Open Space Bond have been transferred to the district, which does not have enough funding to improve and maintain these lands for public use and enjoyment. Additionally,fuel costs have skyrocketed: the total cost for propane to heat the swimming pools last year was about $94,000; the cost was $92,000 for the first six months of 2008.
Proposition 1 will generate about $1.1 million per year by raising the district’s levy rate from an effective rate of 57.5 cents to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. At least 75 percent of the funds will be used to for two purposes: (1) to improve our parks and develop better facilities – including construction of trails, seating and picnic areas, handicap-accessible facilities, parking areas, and restrooms; and (2) to purchase land for additional trail connections, such as the Forest-to-Sky trail, and have the capacity to pursue the acquisition of new open space and parks, particularly in Winslow. The remaining 25 percent will pay for the maintenance of park property and facilities.
We believe that now is the right time for this levy lid increase, even in the face of the nation’s current financial crisis. For the price of a cup of coffee per week, and basic drip at that, we can invest and sustain a system of parks and trails to benefit all: for health and recreation, non-motorized travel, and the beauty and health of our Island ecosystems. With rising fuel costs, we need recreational opportunities in our own neighborhoods.
The lull in the real estate market will mean lower prices for open space and parkland acquisitions, which we should take advantage of. The increasing density of the Winslow area begs for parks within the city core; since 2000, the only new parklands that have been added to greater Winslow have been Hawley Cove Park and the Strawberry Plant property. With the city struggling to provide basic services, the prospect of it providing new parks in Winslow is dim.
Our park district has a proven track record of providing excellent recreational facilities and programs while managing the park system with fiscal responsibility. District board members are committed to stretching every dollar of this new revenue.
They will seek additional revenues through matching grants and will work closely with community groups that have raised funds for major projects and parkland acquisition. They will continue to supplement their staff with the many volunteers who have contributed valuable ideas and sweat equity to park projects. And the district will seek public input in using these new revenues in the most effective way possible.
Vote for preserving the character and charm of our island. Vote to give our park district the resources it needs to keep pace with our growing population. Please vote “yes” on Proposition 1! For more information visit www.BainbridgePeopleForParks.org
Cyndy Holtz is a member of Bainbridge People for Parks.