Park district seeks feedback from community

We, as your park board, would like to know what caused this levy to come up short.

  • Wednesday, May 8, 2019 1:03pm
  • Opinion
Bob McMahon (Courtesy Photo).

Bob McMahon (Courtesy Photo).

The April 2019 Vashon Park District levy was supported by a majority of voters, but came up short of the 60% required to pass by just a couple hundred votes. This was the first time that an operations and maintenance park district levy has not passed. Even during the tumultuous years of the VES Field construction and district revenue challenges, with many islanders frustrated with park board performance, the levies always passed. We, as your park board, would like to know what caused this levy to come up short, so we can continue to serve the community in the best way possible.

We were surprised by these levy results.

We appreciate that a majority of islanders supported the levy but were taken aback that we did not achieve 60% this time. We have worked diligently since the last levy passed to improve park district operations, to update policies, to become more fiscally responsible and to gain public trust following the VES difficulties. Everything we heard seemed to tell us that broad public confidence in the district had been restored.

How did we come up with the numbers?

The operating and maintenance levy is the primary funding source for your park district, covering about 80% of district annual revenue needs. The recent levy amount was largely based on the community survey we commissioned in 2016 (with a response rate of 9% of all island residents), which told us what was important to you. From information gathered with that survey, we developed a strategic plan to address the needs that you identified. The budgets developed from the strategic plan (which took into account potential grants and other fundraising) set the amount requested in the levy.

Why didn’t the levy pass?

It’s hard to know for sure at this point why the levy came up short. Have priorities changed? Did islanders believe that the levy would pass so easily that their vote wasn’t needed? Was it “levy fatigue”? Was it a lack of trust in the district management? Was it lack of awareness of how each of the local taxing districts are funded and how the funding of one affects the funding of the others? Perhaps it was the considerable misinformation that was circulating (e.g., some suggested that the levy could raise your taxes 38% when, in fact, the total property tax bill would only increase by about 1% on average as a result of passage of the parks levy).

Why do we need to know why the levy came up short?

The last thing we want to do at this point is to jump to the wrong conclusions. We want to continue to manage the park district responsibly and based on data (including islander input) – we don’t want to be reactive and to make unwarranted changes. Our strategic plan is based on real data collected and processed over a two-year period. It can’t be abandoned or modified until we know that it’s necessary that we do so. We are still holding onto the belief that islanders and visitors don’t want to see reductions in the services that the survey told us that they wanted.

What we need next

We need your help as we decide what changes, if any, will be required in the operations and maintenance levy that you will vote on later this year. Please let us hear your thoughts in response to our comments contained herein. And we would welcome your attendance at our bi-weekly board meetings, where you can offer your suggestions in person. If you cannot make the meetings but still have input, please send an email to We value all community input.

— Bob McMahon is the chair of the Vashon Park District board of commissioners.

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