It’s official: Voters will decide the fate of a $2.34 million annual property tax levy to better fund Kirkland's cherished parks and a separate $3 million annual levy for road improvements, with the City Council voting unanimously Tuesday to put both on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“By doing this, we’re doing exactly what the people have said they want done,” said Toby Nixon, elected last fall as the council’s newest member. “They want these questions put to a vote of the people. I know there are many people who will take the position that the city ought to be able to do this with existing funds, but (the city) has already been through reductions in its budgets … and unlike the federal government, we can’t just print money here.”
The council conducted two hearings on the levies before the votes. No one testified at all on the street levy, which would address a $39 million backlog in deferred road maintenance and begin to add sidewalks to the 25 percent of the city’s streets that currently lack them. All who spoke on the parks maintenance and acquisition levy favored the measure, which would restore reduced operations and maintenance funding of Kirkland’s parks and increase funding for “capital projects,” such as park renovation and acquisition of new green spaces.
But Kirkland’s Bob Style, a frequent verbal thorn in the side of the City Council on all budget issues, cautioned during the public communication segment of the meeting that he would be watching. He would do so, he said, “So I’m better able to tell the public after Nov. 6, like Paul Harvey, ‘That’s the rest of the story.’”
If approved, according to city estimates, the road levy would cost the owners of a $349,000 home $71.20 annually, or 20 cents per $1,000 of value. The parks levy would 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.
Council members voiced support for both measures. On the roads measure, Dave Asher noted that Kirkland ranked last in a recent King County survey of its major cities and how they maintain transportation infrastructure.
“Our residents have been telling us we should be doing something about this over the past three city public surveys,” he said. “Our staff have been telling us we need to do something about street maintenance. We haven’t been able to get there, or even come close.”
On the parks measure, Councilmember Amy Walen said the maintenance of parks is a quality of life issue with a direct impact on economic viability. “Not only does this move us toward our goal of having a walkable, liveable city, but it also attracts business.”
The only surprise of the evening was an amendment offered by Walen and passed unanimously to add language to the ordinance on the parks measure calling for city staff to prepare an annual accountability report on how the money raised was being spent. “I think we’ve been asked to make sure we are responsible with the use of these funds,” noted Councilmember Bob Sternoff.
Before the vote, Mayor Joan McBride spoke fervently on the need for increased parks funding, noting past budget cuts that resulted in garbage cans being removed from parks, restrooms closed and lifeguard staffing levels reduced.
“This is an overwhelming privilege to be able to vote for this,” she said. “There was a time when it felt like we were balancing the budget on the backs of our parks. It was a very sad time.”
For more details on the parks and streets levies and what they would pay for, see this previous Kirkland Patch story.
In other action:
--Margaret Schwinder of the Kirkland Interfaith Network testified during public communications that clients of the food bank in the Totem Lake/Parmac area were having difficulty getting there due to the lack of close bus routes and nearby bus stops. Construction work at the 116th interchange of Interstate 405 had removed the nearest one and the work will continue for more than a year. So now the nearest bus stop is 0.7 miles away.
Hopelink client Diane Kruse said that is too far for her and other food bank clients. “I’m disabled. I tried walking from the bus stop. It was virtually impossible and unsafe,” she said.
Councilmember Sternoff responded that he would be attending a meeting of the Metro Regional Council on Wednesday and would bring up the issue: “I will elevate that issue, It will go to the Metro director tomorrow.” Council member Asher also asked city staff to look into the issue and prepare a report.
--Former council member and SummerFest organizer Santo Contreras noted that the new music, arts and food festival was Aug. 10-11 and thanked the council for its recent support with a special $7,000 allocation of funds.