Letter to the Editor: Parks District proposal Prop. 1

By Dave Boyd

Having worked on parks levies and levy-funding projects for over 20 years, I strongly support the Park District proposal in Prop. 1. I take issue with many of the arguments by those who oppose it, preferring to continue the periodic levy process. For those who may still be on the fence, here are a few of my reasons.

First, as a parks advocate I would prefer to spend my energies working on actual parks plans and projects, not spending a year or more every 4-8 years formulating and campaigning on another parks levy. The uncertainty of ongoing funding also has an impact on parks staff, causing key staffers to look for other options as a levy nears its end, then staffing up again when a new levy passes - no way to run a department. A parks district will provide a sustainable funding source.

Second, the levies themselves are subject to varying political winds. Many feel that levies should only be used for capital projects, with operations and maintenance covered by the general fund. The impact of Eyman's property tax limits, however, has stretched the general fund beyond its ability to cover those costs. The 2000 ProParks Levy was criticized for trying to address that by covering some maintenance costs, but shifting those to the general fund over the course of the levy. It didn't work as planned, in part because the general fund didn't have the capacity to do that and meet other Council objectives. When I worked on the citizens advisory committee for the current levy (which was hampered by not having the Mayor's support), we chose to stick with the traditional "capital only" approach. We did our best, with little staff support, but it is far from a perfect process. The parks district isn't perfect either, but it will allow for a more rational, ongoing process for planning, creating and maintaining parks facilities.

Third, Council currently has ultimate control of both the general fund and levy portions of the Parks budget. Under a parks district they would have control of the general fund and parks district funding, so not a lot would change. It is true, the levy structure does create funding categories that limit to some degree how funds can be spent, but that's not always a good thing. Over the course of the current levy, funding priorities have shifted, new opportunities have arisen, and it is sometimes difficult for the Levy Oversight Committee and Council to make adjustments and address new needs, whether raised by citizens or by institutions like the zoo and aquarium. A parks district would be better able to deal with emerging needs.

Finally, I'm a firm believer in representative democracy, so I find criticisms of the parks district as elitist and undemocratic somewhat laughable. Our elected Council will serve as the Park District Board. The committee that developed this recommendation included many volunteer parks advocates like me, and the district will have a citizen oversight committee, as the parks levies have. I'm prepared to hold the committee and Council's feet to the fire, as I do now, to make sure they use this new funding authority wisely.

Please join me in voting Yes for parks.

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