The $5.35 Million Dollar Question: What is the Future of Parks & Roads? (poll)

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A battle for the future of Kirkland's parks and roads is raging and we the voters have an important decision to make. Do we want to raise taxes on ourselves to fund two important city services: roads and parks? Some argue in favor of Propositions 1 & 2 saying the need for funds has never been greater and that our roads and parks need improvements and maintenance. Others argue that these two levies amount to an ill-timed $5.35 million tax increase during difficult economic times and that city has not cut enough from its ever-growing budget.

Two propositions will be on the November election ballot for Kirkland voters:

  • Proposition 1 - Levy for City Street Maintenance and Pedestrian Safety (Annual Cost: $3 million*) ; and
  • Proposition 2 - Levy for City Parks Maintenance, Restoration, and Enhancement (Annual Cost: $2.35 million*)

* source: www.kirklandwa.gov/ballotmeasures

Unfortunately, there is so much noise emanating from both sides of this debate (actually, it is more likely there is an echo chamber of only a few hundred citizens making and hearing the noise, all of whom are people in office, people who want to be in office, city employees or those of us who watch city government from the sidelines) that voters may find it difficult to learn the facts and make an educated decision as to how to vote. The City of Kirkland has produced two fact sheets on the measures and we encourage you to read them both:

Proposition 1 Fact Sheet (PDF)

Proposition 2 Fact Sheet (PDF)

$5.35 million levies would partially shift the funding of parks and roads from sales taxes to property taxes

Not only would passage of Propositions 1 & 2 make these tax increases perpetual, they would institute a permanent shift in funding from sales taxes to property taxes. Currently, roads and parks are largely paid for out of the general fund, fed by sales tax receipts. During economic downturns, sales tax receipts decline as consumers spend less. Consequently, the general fund dries up. Property taxes do not fluctuate nearly as much and therefore are considered a more stable source of revenue.

One seldom discussed detail of Propositions 1 & 2 is that they are permanent tax increases. They will never sunset. Unlike their predecessors, this council took a gamble when they decided to make these levies perpetual. Previous voter approved tax increases such as the 2002 Parks Bond had a twenty year sunset. The upside of sunsetting tax increases is that public has a chance to evaluate performance and consider if their money was well spent. The downside of sunsetting is, of course, this whole process must be repeated in ten years or so.

Easing of the city budget

The passage or failure of Props 1 & 2 will have a broad impact on everything done in City Hall. If both measures pass, the city will have an annual infusion of $5.35 million and an easing the pressure to cut  programs to balance the budget. A substantial portion of the money from Props 1 & 2 will be earmarked for specific roads and parks projects, but there is some flexibility in how the money will be allocated. If passed, the measures will reduce budgetary pressures on the council.

Department Directors at City Hall have been asked to come up with plans on how to cut their budgets in the event the voters reject the measures. As a general rule, the City tries to eliminate programs while preserving staff. After several rounds of budget cutting over the past few years, some departments are finding few programs left to cut, thus potentially putting some jobs on the line.

What are the odds?

One might think that in a town like Kirkland which is so proud of its parks, the odds are in favor passage of the parks levy. Recall, however, the failed campaign for a parks levy in 2009 which had a planned sunset clause.

The need for the roads levy is frankly due to years of council neglect. Previous councils repeatedly deferred road maintenance choosing instead to fund other services. Today we find ourselves in a mess of our own making and one we cannot ignore. The question is, how should we pay for it?

I do not know how the electorate will react to Propositions 1 & 2. Will they see them as prudent measures to invest in our services or as ill-timed, never ending tax increases? My guess is only one will pass.

Learn all you can about these measures. A good place to start is at the city website:

Proposition 1 Fact Sheet (PDF)

Proposition 2 Fact Sheet (PDF)