Opponents were waiting for more returns Wednesday and not conceding an inch while supporters were rejoicing in what they called a huge victory for Kirkland after early election results showed city tax levies on parks and streets on the road to approval.
“Everybody who worked on the campaign is very pleased,” said Scott Morris, co-chair of the group Yes! for Kirkland Parks. “We think it’s great voters continued the tradition of making Kirkland a great city. It’s going to secure the future of Kirkland's parks.”
With at least 44 percent of the vote counted, King County Elections reported Tuesday night that Proposition 1 to increase funding for city street maintenance and sidewalks had captured 54.7 percent of the count, some 12,754 in favor and 10,533 against. Some 56.9 percent of the votes counted favored approval of Proposition 2 to restore previously cut funding for parks maintenance, renovation and increase funding for new park lands - 13,303 for and 10,050 against.
King County Elections will release more vote totals Wednesday night, but most observers said both measures were all but certain to pass. However, opponents were not ready to concede.
“I’m happy at what we got with initial returns and hoping we’ll do better yet, said Bob Style of Kirkland, a former City of Carnation planner and the most vocal critic of the propositions. “Even if the parks levy passes, there are different ways to pay for parks.”
Style has suggested charging user fees for some Kirkland parks he considers regional assets, such as Juanita Beach, and has said the leviess are unfair to those on fixed incomes. He also accuses the Kirkland City Council of shifting funds within its budget to create “artificial shortfalls” in parks and roads spending.
“I’ve seen a lot of manipulations of budgets and frankly, I don’t think the public knows what’s going on. You start talking numbers and you put people to sleep.”
Kirkland voters have a long tradition of voting to support and acquire its many neighborhood, forest and shoreline parks, which are heavily used year-round and in total considered one of the finest parks systems in the Northwest for a city of its size, about 80,000 residents.
If approved, according to city estimates, the streets and sidewalks levy will cost the owners of a $349,000 home $71.20 annually, or 20 cents per $1,000 of value. The parks levy will cost the owner of a $349,000 home $55.84 annually, at 16 cents per $1,000 of value. If both pass, the owner of that home would have to pay $127.04 annually.
City Councilwoman Amy Walen noted Wednesday that citizens had urged the council to approve putting the parks levy on the budget. “I’m really excited, but honestly, especially for the parks levy, that wasn’t generated by the council. That was the idea of citizens. I was on the (50-member park funding) exploratory committee.”
At the same time, she said there is no doubt of the need for increased funding for both parks and and streets and sidewalks, noting the example of Heritage Park downtown on Market Street and Waverly Way. The former site of schools, some years ago it was proposed for development as condominiums.
“Citizens got involved, and now that is an amazing park,” she said.
Today, with annexation of three neighborhoods in 2011 that added some 30,000 citizens to Kirkland’s population and the acquisition of a former railroad through town for use as the Cross Kirkland Corridor, the city should address the needs for safe streets and sidewalks and adequate parks.
“This doesn’t just protect what we have, it expands the parks system,” Walen said. “I think that’s our obligation, to make sure we have adequate parks in our new neighborhoods and make sure our routes to school are safe, our bike/pedestrian routes are safe.”
She said identifying such needs and creating a plan for use of the new street and sidewalks funds will be her first council priority in the first quarter of 2013.
As for parks, Morris said the first order of business should be to restore funding for maintenance, cut in 2010 and 2011 after revenue shorts related to the recession. “But right behind that is doing what we can to identify areas that need more parks. We know there is a need and opportunity on the east side of Finn Hill (an annexation neighborhood).”
For previous Kirkland Patch coverage of Propositions 1 and 2, click here.