At issue in Tuesday's election: King County parks levy

SEATTLE -- King County is asking voters in Tuesday's election to approve a $400 million property tax levy to fund the Parks and Open Space.

Supporters say a defeat of this property tax levy would be devastating, forcing hard decisions about some of the public’s favorite recreation areas.

“If the levy does not pass, we drastically have to cut or reduce services,” said Kevin Brown, director of the county Parks Department.  “The services you would see would be very, very minimal on the ground, with some park closures.”

King County operates a vast recreation system:  More than 200 parks and facilities, 175 miles of trails, and thousands of acres of open space.  It’s everything from Marymoor in Redmond, to Cougar Mountain Park in Issaquah, to the Aquatics Center in Federal Way.

Because 70% of the county parks budget is dependent of this voter-approved money, the effects of a rejection would be felt by anyone who uses these areas.

Here are the details of King County’s parks levy:

    The levy is a renewal of a measure that voters passed in 2007, but the price tag has gone up.  Last time around, the annual amount for the average home was $40.

    Supporters say the additional money will help acquire nearly 3,000 acres of parkland across the county.

    “If we don’t do this now, and we want to come back later and try to do this, we’re going to end up paying much, much more,” said campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.  “If the opportunities even still exist.”

    Last time around, the levy won overwhelmingly, so it’s clearly a popular measure.  Indeed, this year there’s no formal opposition to the proposal even though it’s a higher amount.

    “There’s very few places that we can walk around and utilize,” said Marymoor park user Charlene Stumpf.  “I love it and I’m willing to pay the money.”

    But others questioned the fairness of the measure.

    Jen Wilson, another Marymoor user, said:  “Renters aren’t paying, aren’t paying property taxes, whereas homeowners are.”

    Still, she said, “There’s so many homeowners in the area that I really think it would be a minimal amount.”

    A piece of the levy, nearly $30 million, will go to Woodland Park Zoo to help with education and exhibits.