Mayor announces new legacy funding plan to maintain parks and community centers

(March 13, 2014)  Mayor Ed Murray today announced that he will send legislation to the City Council proposing a new sustainable funding source to repair, maintain and restore basic services at the City’s parks, community centers and regional attractions such as the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium.

“In Seattle, we love and enjoy the 465 parks and 26 community centers built and acquired by the City over the past century,” said Murray at a press conference, flanked by organizational partners and community supporters. “We understand that a safe, active, and accessible parks system is an essential part of a healthy, vibrant, thriving city. By providing sustainable funding for much-needed repairs and improvements at our parks, we have an opportunity to be more than grateful beneficiaries of a previous legacy – we can create our own legacy for future generations. ”
If passed by the Council and the approved by the voters, Murray’s proposal would:
·         Fund on average forty additional parks and community centers maintenance projects each year, including ongoing funding to complete as many as twelve maintenance projects at the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium;
·         Keep community centers open for more hours, provide funding to make upgrades to existing community centers, and leave open the possibility of adding more community centers as the city grows;
·         Expand programming for seniors, people with disabilities and underserved populations;
·         Develop fourteen new parks on land already in City ownership; and
·         Provide funding for an urban parks partnership model to promote creative collaborations in downtown to activate parks with a focus on safety.
Murray’s proposal would implement the Parks Legacy Plan Citizens Advisory Committee’s recommendation for creating a park district. The model, implemented in sixteen jurisdictions already in Washington, would put in place a stable and dedicated funding source for parks.
“I believe our community will embrace a park district as a reliable, ongoing source of funding that is accountable to the public and mirrors the commitment of Seattle’s residents to keeping our parks open and accessible to everyone,” said Murray, who noted that a perpetual lack of funding has created a $267 million backlog of maintenance projects at facilities all across the city.
The park district will be a junior taxing authority with the ability to levy up to $.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. The Mayor’s package would tax homeowners at a rate of about $.42 per $1,000 of assessed value and collect about $54 million a year. It would cost the owner of a $400,000 home in Seattle about $14 a month, or around 50 cents per day.
Murray’s announcement came at Hiawatha Community Center, the oldest community center in the city. In 1911, Hiawatha Field House was the fledging effort of a small city to establish a system of recreation centers. City planners chose the site because the adjacent Hiawatha Playfield was the largest public playfield in Seattle at the time. Today Hiawatha continues to be in high demand. It has waitlists for its after-school childcare, preschool and summer camp programs, and attracts nearly 5,000 people to its popular summer concert series and annual barbeque fundraiser.
The Citizen’s Advisory Committee is comprised of 15 volunteers appointed by the Mayor and City Council. The committee, which began meeting in June 2013, made its recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on Wednesday, March 12.
Murray was joined at the press conference today by Citizens Advisory Committee Co-Chairs Barbara Wright and Charlie Zaragoza, Woodland Park Zoo Executive Director Deborah Jensen, Seattle Aquarium Executive Director Bob Davidson, Neighborhood House Executive Director Mark Okazaki, Forterra Executive Director Gene Duvenoy, Arboretum Foundation Executive Director Paige Miller, Downtown Seattle Association Executive Director Kate Joncas.
“Parks make Seattle great.  Thanks to the generosity of taxpayers over the past decades, we have created affordable and inviting places for every adult and child to play throughout our city,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.  “My goals are to prioritize the maintenance and improvement of our existing facilities, and assure positive programs for all ages and abilities,” Bagshaw added.

Murray will transmit legislation to the City Council with his recommendations on Tuesday, March 18. City Council has until May 5 to submit a ballot measure for an Aug. 5 vote.