Vashon Park District commissioners voted last week to ask island voters to approve a four-year replacement levy for its maintenance and operations that would bump the district’s property tax collections up by more than 50 percent in 2024.
The proposed levy will appear on the April 25 ballot and would require a 60 percent “yes” vote for approval.
Passage of the levy, commissioners and its executive director said, is necessary in order to maintain and preserve VPD’s programs, given skyrocketing inflation, increased labor costs and the community’s expectations for the district to provide expansive programming and benefits to islanders.
The Park District’s current four-year levy, approved by voters in 2019 for tax years 2020-2023, expires at the end of this year.
Taxes paid to VPD account for only a small fraction of islanders’ property tax bills, about 3 percent this year.
Revenue is needed, district says
According to the King County Tax Assessor, VPD is slated to collect about 30.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value this year, producing about $1.53 million in tax revenue. In 2024, the new levy, if approved by voters, would boost the rate to 45 cents per $1000 of assessed property value, generating about $2.33 million.
Subsequently, levy collections could increase by 1 percent each year in 2025, 2026 and 2027.
For the owner of a home with an assessed value of $900,000, taxes paid to the Park District would increase from $286 this year to $405 in 2024.
If the assessed value of that $900,000 home goes up this year, the increase would be larger, and conversely, if home values decrease, the tax payment would decrease.
According to VPD Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford, and VPD commissioners, the revenues generated by the renewed levy are required, given the district’s increased costs in serving the public in the current economic climate.
The district has not been extravagant, but rather, realistic in its budget projections to both retain qualified staff and preserve its current assets and complete new projects, they said — including the replacement of Tramp Harbor Dock as well as provide much-needed maintenance and improvements elsewhere within the 18 parks and facilities operated by VPD.
The 1 percent annual increases from the proposed levy from 2025-2027, Ott-Rocheford said, would not begin to match inflation in those years.
Ott-Rocheford also characterized the replacement levy as VPD’s “one opportunity to recover from significant losses in the past.”
These losses, she said, included the costly Vashon Elementary School (VES) Fields project completed by the district about a decade ago — which incurred significant debt that is now paid off — as well as other more recent setbacks that have limited the district’s ability to collect sufficient tax revenue throughout the years of the pandemic.
VPD commissioner Bob McMahon concurred with Ott-Rocheford’s assessment, at a Jan. 24 commissioners’ meeting, prior to the board’s vote to approve the levy measure.
“We have had to put off necessary capital expenditures over the past 10 years for lots of reasons ….It was tight budgeting for a long time,” he said, adding that revenue in 2023 from the proposed levy would “put [our] parks back where they need to be.”
At the board meeting, Josh Henderson, VPD’s board chair, also urged that the district’s messaging about the measure should state that the district depends solely on property tax revenue to fund its operations and maintenance.
“Without a replacement levy,” he said, “the Vashon Park District would close.”
Levy rate is same as passed in 2019
If a park district levy rate of 45 cents per $1000 of assessed property value sounds familiar to islanders, that’s because, in 2019, voters approved VPD’s now-expiring levy at the exact same rate.
But because property values were much lower at that time, the levy produced much less revenue in its first year, 2020 — only $1.52 million.
Since then, the district’s tax revenues have dipped and climbed like a roller coaster.
VPD was scheduled to collect 45 cents again in 2021. But because the district’s levy rate and those of a number of other taxing districts cumulatively exceeded a legal limit of $5.90 — and because the Park District, by law, was first on the chopping block — its revenue was trimmed by more than 10 percent.
The district requested, and the Legislature approved, a law in 2021 effectively ensuring that kind of “pro-rationing” wouldn’t happen to VPD again.
But something else happened, instead, when VPD announced that a mistake by the King County Assessor’s Office in calculating the new law’s impact had allowed the district to collect $1.75 million in 2022, nearly $200,000 more than it was legally entitled to.
The mistake was discovered in a state Department of Revenue late last year.
Correcting that error has brought the district’s estimated 2023 collections back down to $1.53 million.
That amount of revenue, said Ott-Rocheford, is insufficient for VPD to maintain its 18 parks and facilities as well as make capital improvements.
In an interview, she ticked off some of the items on VPD’s project list, now adding up to $5 million in projected costs, which include improvements to the Vashon Pool, the full enclosure of the structure at Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC), replacement of the septic system at Point Robinson, repairs to the leaking roof of the district’s Ober Park administration building, and much more.
Adding to this, she said, are significant costs in dealing with increased vandalism in parks.
Beyond these efforts, Ott-Rocheford said, islanders have also continued to ask for new programs and facilities including pickleball courts and a dog park.
Commissioner Hans Van Dusen, in signaling his approval of the levy measure, said that he believed VPD was making the correct calculation in terms of its real costs going forward.
“Looking at the budget, I don’t see anything where I would make a cut,” he said. “Also, it would not be fiscally prudent to bank on the housing value staying up. You don’t get to go back if they drop in two years.”
The Vashon Park District is seeking volunteers for appointment to the pro and con committees to prepare statements for the voters’ pamphlet in favor of and in opposition to the April 25 election for the Vashon Park District maintenance and operations levy.
Contact Elaine Ott-Rocheford, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-463-9602, for more information.