Two property tax levies totalling more than $11 million to help pay for Kirkland's beloved parks -- which have suffered two straight bienniums of budget cuts -- might well be bound for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The city’s 50-member Park Funding Exploratory Committee, created by the City Council last July at the urging of parks enthusiasts, on Tuesday recommended that the council consider the two levies. They would pay for city park and dock renovations, development of the cross-Kirkland trail on the 5.7-mile , for the acquisition of more land for parks primarily in recently annexed neighborhoods, and for continued parks operations and maintenance.
One would be a nine-year levy at $10 million for capital projects and the other would be a permanent levy at $1.095 million for maintenance and operations. If the levies are approved, property owners in Kirkland would have to pay about 16 cents for every $1,000 dollars of the property’s assessed valuation -- about $76.92 for the average Kirkland household.
Due to city budget cuts, since 2008, the 's maintenance staff has been reduced by 20 percent. The department's Capital Improvement Program envisions $77 million in needed but currently unfunded capital improvement projects from 2011 to 2016.
The City Council at its Tuesday study session received a report on the levies from the Parks Department and advised department staff to proceed with a recommended random telephone survey of citizens’ willingness to consider a November ballot measure on parks and how to prioritize its expenditures.
“It’s a big number for these times,” said Councilmember Dave Asher, who praised the report and the committee’s work. “We’ll see what the survey comes up with. I’m concerned this is not salable in the short time we have between now and the election.”
Michael Cogle, assistant parks director, noted that the committee included many members from Kirkland’s various neighborhood associations, who could serve as liaisons with the community to explain the proposal.
“I’m amazed you could put 50 people in a room and come out with a consensus,” said Councilmember Bob Sternoff, a former member of the city’s Park Board. “We have a lot of competing things for our constituents’ dollars, but this is important to our community.”
The council plans to examine the proposal in greater depth at its annual retreat on March 23-24.
Here is a list of the projects and initiatives the levies would pay for:
- Restore parks maintenance – Included is restoration to historic maintenance standards, including restroom operations in neighborhood parks and restoration of lifeguards at , and .
- Assume maintenance of , which is in a neighborhood annexed by the city last June and is now funded by a Finn Hill Park District levy set to expire in 2014. The Finn Hill Park District itself would likely be dissolved and park operations assumed by Kirkland.
- Provide ongoing funding for natural area restoration (“Green Kirkland”). The majority of the committee believed this should continue to be primarily a volunteer-supported program, but included in the parks budget.
- Waverly Beach Renovation – This project was reduced from the staff recommendation and is intended to address needed repairs and shoreline restoration rather than any enhancement of the park at this time.
- Dock and Shoreline Renovations – This project was reduced from the staff recommendation to limit the total nine-year ballot measure to $10 million. The shoreline work would be to remove concrete bulkheads and restore natural shores.
- Renovation – This park in north Juanita was felt to provide geographic balance and is heavily used, with great potential.
- City/School Partnerships – Although specific locations have not been identified, the partnerships would likely involve city support for play field renovations.
- Neighborhood Park Land Acquisition – This would address neighborhood park needs in geographically-dispersed neighborhoods, mostly in annexaton areas.
- Development of the Rail Corridor -- The city is currently in the process of for a cross-town trail. The levy would pay for removal of the tracks and creation of a gravel surface for bikes and pedestrians.
- Juanita Beach Bathhouse Renovation – This project would renovate the 50-year-old structure and likely include space for canoe and kayak rentals.
The proposal calls for the City Council to approve or reject the proposed levies at its July 17 meeting. If approved, they would have to be filed with King County Elections by the Aug. 7 deadline. The election is on Nov. 6.
For more details, see the attached city PDF file.