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Levy needed to keep parks open, some say

Islanders will decide by mail-in ballot if Vashon Park District deserves six more years of funding. They are voting on the parks’ proposed maintenance and operations levy, a measure that, if approved, would tax Island property owners up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value each year — up from the district’s historic levy rate of 45 cents per $1,000.

The levy — which would cost the owner of a $500,000 house $250 each year — is the sole funding source for the park district, which does not receive money from the state or county to run its 18 parks. The levy comes before Island voters on the same mail ballot, due Nov. 3, as a school district maintenance and technology levy.

“The levy is to support our infrastructure,” said park board chair Mike Collins. “I think it’s important that it passes so we can continue to provide the services we now provide and can add some new services.”

Vashon Park District manages Island parks as diverse as Point Robinson and Ober Park. It also supports some of the Island’s most popular sports and recreation teams and opportunities — from clubs like Vashon Island Soccer Club and Vashon Island Junior Basketball to free programs like Kite Day and the Low Tide Festival.

“Park district programs are designed to serve the broad demographic that Vashon is evolving into,” said Susan McCabe, Vashon Park District’s programs coordinator. “The park district is paid for by your tax dollars. ... If you want something, let us know — we’ll try to make it happen.”

The park district’s current levy, passed in 2006, is authorized to collect up to 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value through 2010. Park officials say the district needs an extra nickel because, in the past few years, it has taken on three new parks, begun managing programs like the Vashon Senior Center and started maintaining school-owned athletic fields.

“We have taken on so much more,” said Wendy Braicks, Vashon Park District executive director. “We ask for what’s needed; we run a tight ship, and we’re able to do a lot” with levy funds.

Currently proposed is a Vashon Park District takeover of the Vashon Pool, which is now run by King County. The county no longer has funds to operate the pool, and Vashon Park District officials are hoping the Island district will be able to take over its management.

But taking on the pool will come at a cost, Braicks noted.

“The levy makes it possible for us to step in and maybe do that, and on very short notice,” she said.

The proposed levy would not fund major park projects like field overhauls or park remodels. It is spent only on the daily operations and maintenance of the Island’s parks and properties.

“The money stays on the Island — it’s not county or state money,” said park board member Joe Wald. “The parks are on the Island, employ Islanders, serve Islanders. I think (the park district) serves everybody.”

Were the levy to fail, Vashon Park District would have another chance to pass an operations levy in 2010 before the current levy expires at the end of 2010.

And though the levy is asking for a higher levy rate than has traditionally been the case, opposition to the levy is not apparent. At last week’s election information forum, no one stepped forward to speak against the park levy; board member Bill Ameling spoke in the levy’s favor.

The current levy rate is 36.5 cents per $1,000, so the one-year jump in taxes would be more than just a nickel. The 2009 levy rate is less than 45 cents because, each year, the absolute amount the park district can collect only increases by 1 percent, Ameling said. So as property values go up, the levy falls behind, and though the park district is collecting more than it did when its levy began in 2006, the cost per $1,000 is less.

Levy funds make up the entirety of the park district’s operating budget.

“If you vote no, Vashon Park District’s budget goes to zero,” Ameling told those in attendance at the election forum.

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