County places parks levy on August ballot

May 7, 2013

By Ari Cetron

Sammamish voters will weigh in on a proposal to raise property taxes to fund county parks in August.

By a 7-2 vote, the King County Council decided April 29 to send the measure to voters. Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Sammamish on the council, voted against the measure along with Councilman Reagan Dunn.

The proposed six-year levy would replace a pair of expiring levies that support parks countywide. The existing levies have a combined tax rate of 13.31 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed levy would have a value of 18.77 cents per $1,000.

For the owner of a $600,000 home, that means a tax hike from $79.86 per year to $112.62 per year – a 41 percent increase. The levy would raise $60.7 million in 2014.

The expiring levies fund about 70 percent of the operating budget for the county parks system, according to county documents. The parks system includes some 26,000 acres. Around Sammamish, it includes areas such as Klahanie Park, Cougar Mountain and Marymoor Park. The county parks system also includes the King County Aquatic Center, Woodland Park Zoo and Sammamish River Trail.

“Voters will decide in August whether to continue supporting a parks levy that provides funding to operate and maintain parks like Marymoor and Cougar Mountain, and to expand the regional trail system,” said Councilman Larry Phillips in a press release.

Lambert said she opposed the measure because of the impact it might have on junior taxing districts.

State law provides that local taxing districts (including cities, counties, fire districts, port commissions, libraries, hospital districts and more) cannot impose a total tax of more than $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Counties, cities and road districts get the top priority, followed by everyone else.

So if there are areas hitting the maximum, and the county imposes this parks levy, some of the more junior districts in those areas could see the amount they can collect reduced.

For Sammamish voters, however, there is not likely to be much impact. The highest tax rate (considering only the local taxing districts) is a combined $5.28, according to Joe Guinasso, Sammamish’s finance director.

Meaning that even with the extra five cents, the city will remain well under the cap.

That may not be true for all parts of the county.

Lambert said in a statement she voted against the proposed tax levy because of that potential.

“Voters will have a choice to increase funding for expansion of our parks system or to preserve tax capacity for other services such as roads, transit, fire and public safety,” said Lambert in a statement. “The voters need to be fully informed on the impact of their choice. As currently written, this is an ‘all or nothing’ choice—which, in my mind is not a real choice.”

The levy will appear on the Aug. 6 primary ballot.

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