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City debates best way to acquire last piece of Japanese Gulch
MUKILTEO - The City Council is still figuring out how and whether or not it will put a ballot measure asking voters to save the last piece of Japanese Gulch, which borders Everett and Mukilteo.
Council members made little headway in deciding what path they want to take last week. They planned to meet this week after press time to continue the discussion.
Supporters call the latest push “Save the Gulch 2.0” to buy the last 98-acre piece.
Last year’s ballot measure asking for a $3 million bond got 58 percent of the vote, but it needed a 60 percent supermajority to pass. Supporters say most of the “no” votes were voters who didn’t know about the gulch and didn’t want to raise their taxes.
Things for the council to consider for the latest measure include what funding method to use, whether to put a measure on the August primary ballot or November general election ballot and whether enough voters will pass it.
The city is trying to patch together how to buy the last privately owned piece of the gulch. The purchase price from a recent appraisal is $6.3 million and the city currently has $800,000 in its kitty. The city has asked for a cumulative $3 million from state and county funding sources to bolster its ability to buy the land.
To make up the rest, the council could ask voters for a $2.5 million bond, or they could circumvent voters by taking out a bond of its own, which is ultimately paid by taxpayers.
Timing is another issue. If the council wants the measure on the August ballot, it has to have the ballot materials ready by May 10.
And then there is the issue of voter turnout. The ballot measure must get at least 40 percent of the turnout of the prior general election, or about 4,500 voters, for the result to be certified by the Snohomish County elections office.
Council President Randy Lord and Richard Emery don’t want to risk missing that turnout threshold.
A ballot measure historically costs the city at least $3,000 to get on the ballot.
Council members think a November ballot measure should attract the required turnout, but time is of the essence because another buyer could swoop in to buy the land.
A bankruptcy court, however, is temporarily holding the land for the city of Mukilteo if the city can raise the funds.
Lord supported asking for more money from the government while going to voters.
Almost all council members except Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson oppose a third option to ask voters to increase their property taxes through a levy lid lift to fund the gulch.
The levy lid lift would tap into eight years of property tax increases the city didn’t take, which amount to about $318,000 in “banked” property tax. Cities are limited to a 1 percent increase each year because of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747. 
The idea is opposed by Mayor Joe Marine, who considers touching the banked capacity equivalent to raiding the city’s “last resort” reserves.
Gregerson supports using some of that banked money in combination with a bond ballot measure.
Councilwoman Linda Grafer opposed the idea of circumventing the voters and does not want to issue a council bond.
“We used councilmanic bonds already for our Rosehill Community Center,” Grafer said. “I’m not willing to take on a second debt.”

 

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