I was appointed as a Vashon Park District commissioner in August of 2018, and am now a candidate for a full four-year term that would begin later this year. During my initial 14-months on your Park District board, I have been amazed by the value the district continues to deliver and support with limited resources, through prudent and successful financial stewardship by committed leadership and staff.
The current ballot contains the renewal of the Park District’s primary operations levy. This provides a great window to learn more about the District’s ongoing stewardship of our island parks and programs, supported by a limited local property tax.
Stable Financial Stewardship
The Park District has an operating budget of approximately $1.5 million per year, with 80% provided by the operations levy (tax) on property values and 20% from grants and user fees. District resources are far less than most other tax districts on island and represent less than 4% of property tax bills, which works out to $190 per year for my house. With these limited resources, the district manages 18 popular island parks and facilities, covering 524 acres, while also coordinating additional use of essential partner facilities for the public.
Dozens of local organizations and thousands of islanders enjoy these essential community resources every month, including the Vashon Pool, Vashon Elementary School and Agren athletic fields, Point Robinson, Ober Park, the Village Green, Burton Adventure Recreation Center skateboard and recreation facility, Fisher Pond, and the Jenson Point Park and boating facility, to name a few.
Over the last decade, the district budget has grown below 3% per year, and below regional inflation impacts. The district is not immune to the effects of inflation. While facing wage, health care, utility and service increases (as all organizations face), strong fiscal oversight, creative solutions, and support with regional grants, the district has continually provided more with less. Its programs, public access and services have all expanded in recent years.
Meanwhile, the district has eliminated all debt, no longer uses loans for operations and has built up a responsible emergency reserve. Five years ago, the state auditor provided a cautionary review of the district financial practices. In contrast, the 2019 state auditor’s report was a glowing review of the current district financing and practices.
Reduced Rate Levy
To continue this stable financial stewardship, officials with the Park District are requesting voters renew the basic operations levy, at a rate of $0.45 per $1,000 assessed property value. The requested levy is 10% below the 2015 approved levy (which was $0.50 per $1,000 property value). Few other local districts have reduced their levy rate request of island taxpayers. Without this levy renewal, the district would need to close facilities, end programs, discontinue partnerships and lay off most staff in 2020.
However, with the proposed minimal levy rate, the district will have a slight revenue boost in 2020 from increased property values. After that, future district revenue (and individual tax payments) will be capped at 1% growth per year per state law. Through continued effective leadership, the district plans to leverage these modest funds to expand programs; focusing on youth and seniors; maintain current facilities; support partner efforts; and make minor long-term investments in essential fleet, buildings and recreational assets.
As a fellow resident, I encourage all voters to learn more from the current voter pamphlet and from the Park District website or by stopping by the district office. We are lucky to have such exceptional parks, programs and services for our community, and today, we are lucky to have those resources under continuing strong stewardship.
Hans Van Dusen is a commissioner of the Vashon Park District.