Snohomish considers forming parks district
SNOHOMISH - The City Council is hoping its discussion on creating a metropolitan parks district levy in lieu of taking a general property tax increase for 2013 will bring an old parks plan back to life.
The city’s 2007 strategic plan laid out a number of goals to expand and improve parks and recreational opportunities, but according to city documents, the Great Recession forced the city to put them all on hold. Should a metropolitan parks district be approved by voters, the city’s focus on parks will likely see significant growth.
To accommodate a potential expansion in parks services if a levy passes, additional parks staff would be required. Likely positions created would be a full-time parks and recreation director with an estimated salary and benefits of $99,300 and a recreation coordinator with an estimated salary and benefits of $64,800.
A simple majority vote is needed to approve the creation of a parks district, which would tax homeowners specifically for parks services. The city will be discussing this issue over the next year with a possible ballot measure going on the November 2013 general election ballot.
City Manager Larry Bauman said a parks district has the potential to generate $750,000 a year for the city.
Mayor Karen Guzak expressed support for a parks district at last week’s meeting.
“A metropolitan parks district is the right way to go; it suits us well,” Guzak said. “It makes it clear that (the money) is specifically for parks. I’m looking forward to expanding our parks and connecting more trails and bike paths.”
Some council members expressed concern at the Nov. 20 meeting that taking the 1 percent property tax increase allowed by state law and proposed in the 2013 budget threatened government transparency. Councilman Derrick Burke said taking an increase with no reason or vote would make it unclear where the revenue it generated would go.
“(The parks district) gives people the sense of confidence, purpose and clarity as to where their money is going,” Councilman Greg Guedel said at last week’s meeting.
The proposed 2013 budget currently allocates $384,694 for parks maintenance. Just over $200,000 of that goes to labor costs which support two full-time positions, a part-time position and one temporary position.
There is currently no cost assessment of implementing the full parks plan. City staff has recommended that a cost analysis may be one of the next steps in the process.
The city of Snohomish has just over 90 acres of parks and open space, which council members said are a valuable part of the community.
Councilman Paul Kaftanski said good city parks improve residents’ quality of life.
“Good parks and services make a difference in where people choose to live,” Kaftanski said, adding that “having a metropolitan parks district really identifies a priority the council places on parks and recreation in our community.”
If voters approve a parks district levy, new programs and classes likely will be offered by the parks department.
Bauman said a parks district would be similar in nature to the city’s transportation benefit district which was approved by voters last August and raises money specifically for street repairs and improvements.
Bauman said the transportation district relieved substantial pressure from the 2013 general fund budget. When fully operational, the transportation district tax will collect about $600,000 a year for streets.
Last month the City Council voted 4-3 to not impose a 1 percent general property tax increase.
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