Voters were favoring Kirkland's two property tax levies on Tuesday's ballot, giving both strong early leads that should hold up as ballot counts continue this week.
In early returns released by King County Elections totaling about 44 percent of the vote, Proposition 1 to fund street and sidewalk improvements had captured 54.7 percent of the vote, with 12,754 favoring approval and 45.2 percent rejecting, or 10,533 votes.
Proposition 2 to improve funding for Kirkland's treasured parks was ahead by a larger margin, 56.9 percent to 43 percent, or 13,303 votes for and 10,050 against.
"This is an exciting night for Kirkland," said City Manager Kurt Triplett. "Obviously we're thrilled about the levies. Citizens are going to see immediate action, beginning with better maintenance in our parks, with us moving ahead on the Cross Kirkland Corridor, and this summer, with more lifeguards on the beaches.
"And on the roads, we'll see immediate work on our streets and sidewalks. I'm really excited. It's terrific for Kirkland."
Propositions 1 and 2 were born from the frustration by the Kirkland City Council in funding necessary road repairs and maintenance and service levels for parks after sharp reductions in tax revenues that began at the depths of the recession in 2008.
When the council cut services at many neighborhood parks in by cutting the seasonal workforce, reducing garbage collection and locking restrooms, regular parks user expressed their indignation. Although other funding sources allowed restoration of some services, some Kirkland Park Board members suggested the idea of a property tax levy to fully fund the city’s highly regarded and treasured parks.
In June of 2011 the City Council formed a 50-member exploratory parks funding committee, and it at first proposed in March of this year two property tax levies totaling $11 million, to pay not only for parks maintenance and renovations, but also the conversion of the former Burlington Northern Railroad tracks through town into the Cross Kirkland Corridor.
Around the same time the city council began wrestling with how to fund a $39 million backlog in deferred road maintenance, and the need to upgrade some 25 percent of Kirkland’s road that currently lack them.
Ultimately, after reviewing the results of surveys done for the city, the parks funding panel’s recommendations and public hearings testimony, the council vote unanimously to put two levies on the Nov. 6 ballot. One would be a $2.34 million annual property tax levy for parks and the other a $3 million annual levy for road improvements.
If approved, according to city estimates, the road 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. (For details, see the attached PDF file).
Although voting unanimously to put both measures on the ballot, council members did have concerns that voters might approve one and not the other. "One concern was that if we put two on the ballot, people might say, 'Do I want my dessert, or should I eat my broccoli?'" Councilman Dave Asher told Kirkland Patch recently.
The parks levy enjoyed broad public support, generating more letters than any other issue in the 22-month history of Kirkland Patch, the majority of them backing the proposal. Both levies were hotly opposed by frequent city council budgetary critic Robert Style of Kirkland, who wrote the “con” statement that appeared in the King County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet.
He also maintained a steady drumbeat of opposition in letters to Kirkland Patch and in comments to letters from supporters. He said the city council had enough money to pay for both parks and roads, arguing that the funding amounts in the levies totalled less than one percent of the city budget. He also argued that the levies would impose hardship on those with fixed incomes, particularly given the current tough economy.
Editor's Note: An inaccurate vote percentage for the Kirkland parks levy in the original posting of this story has been corrected.
The vote is over Kirkland, how did you vote on Props. 1 and 2 and why? Tell us in the comments box!