Anti–Parks District Campaign Makes Dramatic Claims
Anti–Prop 1 group says taxes are going to sky-rocket, pro–parks campaign says foes are in "black helicopter territory"
The anti–Proposition 1 campaign made some dramatic claims in a mailer they sent out over the weekend.
Prop 1, which voters will decide on in the August 5 ballot, is a 34 cents per $1,000 property tax increase to create a permanent parks fund—a Metropolitan Parks District—to replace the current levy-to-levy approach.
The MPD, supported by the council and the mayor (and the ex-mayor, Mike McGinn), would raise about $47.9 million a year (with a 2014 assessed median home paying about $130 a year) while the current levy, at about 18.9 cents per thousand dollars of property valuation, costs about $72 per year for about $23.2 million in parks money. The MPD would be overseen by a governing board consisting of the Seattle City Council.
The anti–Prop. 1 campaign acknowledges that the current levy isn't keeping parks funded appropriately, however they don't like the permanent funding solution because they feel it's a "blank check."
The anti–park district mailers say: the MPD "removes all accountability"; plus, the fliers claim it would increase property taxes "by 20 percent" and give the MPD the power to "privatize" Seattle parks by, for example, building "new stadiums."
Asked to explain the charges (which pro–Prop 1 spokesman Sandeep Kaushik calls "outright falsehoods") Don Harper, a Queen Anne activist who's chairing the anti-MPD campaign, wasn't too adamant about the stadiums bit, but he was serious about what he believed was a lack of accountability. He said without the semi-regular vote on parks funding—traditionally Seattle's parks levies hit every six years—citizens would lose their say on parks specifically. "We're giving up the right to vote," he says.
"There is no world where that math is accurate."
Harper discounts regular elections of city council members (who, in fact, will double as the MPD board) and the mayor, because he says he can't think of an example of any council member or mayor ever getting booted over the ongoing lack of parks funding. (Ed Murray pushed the MPD idea in his mayoral bid, making a big deal out of the $267 million backlog in parks maintenance during the 2013 campaign, which worked against his rival, former mayor Mike McGinn. Now, new-Mayor Murray is pushing the Prop.1 parks measure.)
More important, though: MPD proponents point out that the measure comes with a new 15-member community oversight committee. (True.) The state also requires regular audits of the MPD.
The pro–Prop 1 side also shoots down the "privatization" charge, quoting the measure, which says: "All park and recreation land, facilities, and equipment...shall remain the property of the city. No joint property ownership is contemplated..."
The measure goes on to say that "sale of City-owned park land or facilities" are governed by another city ordinance, which voters codified in 1996 with I-42, a measure about parks that said:
All lands and facilities held now or in the future by The City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes, whether designated as park, park boulevard, or open space, shall be preserved for such use; and no such land or facility shall be sold, transferred, or changed from park use to another usage ...
Pretty stern stuff.
And even with some slight wiggle room that comes next with an "unless" clause about a "necessary" transaction "because there is no reasonable or practical alternative" (which also stipulates that the city must receive "equivalent or better" land or facilities in return "serving the same community and park purposes"), the opponents claims aren't very powerful as a sudden critique of the MPD. After all, the language governs the current parks system.
Finally, there's the claim that your property taxes will increase by 20 percent. With the current rate at $10.29 per $1,000 of assessed value, that would be a full $2 increase—to about $12.34.
Michael Maddux, a member of the citizen committee that came up with the MPD recommendation, says bluntly: "If your property tax rate is $10.29 per $1,000.00 of assessed value [the city confirmed this number], Mr. Harper is claiming that Proposition 1 increases that rate by $2.06 per $1,000.00. There is no world where that math is accurate."
The .34¢ per $1,000 that Murray and the council are proposing would only increase your property tax bill to about $10.38 per $1,000 of assessed value (the current Pike Place levy and current Parks Levy are going away, so I've subtracted those.) Overall, that's an increase of .09 cents or a .87 percent increase.
So, what's with the 20 percent claim?
Here's the anti–Prop 1 camp's math on that. They're not looking at the overall property tax burden. They start by eliminating county and state property taxes, and just take Seattle-only property taxes, which they put at $3.60. (You're actually paying about $3.05 in Seattle-only property taxes; $3.60 is the legal cap). And the anti–Prop 1 camp isn't going with the 34 cent increase that the council approved for the MPD for the next six years, but rather, they're using ceiling the council can levy, 75 cents. Using those numbers, they calculate a 20 percent increase (20.8 percent, actually.)
"Basic math," Harper says.
Pro-side campaign spokesman Kaushik says the weekend mailer is "in black helicopter territory" for claiming the MDP is going to build private sports stadiums and for the dramatic property tax claims. "Prop 1 is not going to raise anyone's property taxes by 20 percent," Kaushik says. "That's ridiculous and absolutely false."