I support Vashon Park District levies, but Proposition 1 is not the answer. Since ballots have been received, I urge everyone to Vote “NO” on Proposition 1.
Unfortunately, a fatally flawed Strategic Planning process led to a fatally flawed Strategic Plan and levy request. Instead of starting with the amount of money a reasonable levy request would generate and generating a Plan, the Park District Commissioners developed a wish list of budget items to be disbursed over an arbitrary timeframe, with the expectation that the tax payers would write a check to pay for these items, regardless of the cost.
According to the Park District Executive Director, Elaine Ott-Rocheford, Proposition 1 will increase levy income from the current record high amount of $1,338,312 to $1,844,413, a $506,101 increase! This increase will not just be for 2020; it will be forever, since government agencies always find something new to justify their increased spending.
In reality, the Park District should have plenty of cash to address its needs without having to increase the levy by 38%. Before VES, the levy was less than $1.0 million and the Park District was investing over $400,000/yr in recreational programs, which now are gone. Then $1,5 million of levy money was spent on VES over several years. After VES was complete, the District has built a permanent reserve of $301,000, in a very short time, with total cash of $511,000 at the end of 2018. It should be noted the Park District commissioners agreed this reserve is adequate, thereby freeing the funds used to build the reserve for deferred maintenance needs.
The problem is not a drastic shortage of money, but fiscally-irresponsible spending and a failure to listen to the island concerns. After spending $30,000 for an island-wide survey, the commissioners ignored the results and chose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on lower priority items, including one item supported by less than 2% of the survey takers. Even though there was money in the 2018 budget, no new recreational programs for seniors, or anyone else, were funded. The other top priority, rest rooms at all the major parks, could have started two years ago, but only now is being discussed as part of the new levy cycle.
Most importantly, the survey revealed only 9% of the island thought the condition of the Park District facilities was in poor condition. As such, there is no urgency to address the deferred maintenance and new projects during the next 4 years. A $0.45 levy would provide a generous 19% increase. These projects could happen over the next 8 years, and perhaps as little as 6 or 7 years, if the commissioners spend more responsibly, and the District has continued success with grants.
As identified in the community survey, the firm that conducted the survey stated the expectation would be for many of the larger deferred maintenance needs to be financed with a bond over a much longer period than 4, or even 8 years. Most people would agree that if you are planning a $1 million construction project that will last 20 or 30 years, you should pay for it over 20 or 30 years, not 4 years. This would further reduce the need for a larger levy.
The Park District has provided facilities and programs for over 30 years while spending a fraction of the $1.8 million requested in Proposition 1. The fact is no one on the island had their income increase 38%, and neither should the Park District. While the increased amount may seem minor in absolute dollars, you have to consider the cumulative effect. The fire district increased its levy again, the school district is seeking to address its shortfall, and then there is a possible hospital district. This is not Bainbridge or Mercer Island. Let’s give a break to all islanders, especially those on fixed income, and Vote “NO” on Proposition 1.
Do not be deceived by the fearmongers who say a “NO” vote will shut down the Park District. The commissioners have plenty of time to come back with a reasonable request in November.
Scott Harvey is a longtime island resident who served on the VES Oversight Committee and was a Park District commissioner for 4 ½ years, ending in 2018.