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Task force recommends continued levy support of King County parks

A group of King County residents has unanimously recommended continued levy funding for King County’s extensive system of parks, trails and open space.

With the two voter-approved levies that fund the bulk of park operations, open space and trails expiring at the end of 2013, County Executive Dow Constantine convened the King County Parks Levy Task Force earlier this year to explore future funding.

“I want to thank King County Parks Levy Task Force members for their thoughtful recommendations, and for recognizing that parks, trails and open space are essential to our high quality of life and benefit our economy by increasing property values while attracting businesses and visitors,” Constantine said in a county media release.

Asked by the executive for guidance on how best to ensure the vitality and sustainability of King County’s parks and trails in 2014 and beyond, the 22-member group of business and civic leaders prioritized keeping the county’s parks and trails clean, safe, open and accessible. Task force members also recommended connecting and expanding trails and open space and repairing critical and aging public recreation facilities.

The task force unanimously recommended a levy that could generate approximately $60.9 million annually over a six-year period, based upon a total rate of 19.01 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to fund:

• Operations and maintenance of King County’s 200 parks, 175 miles of regional trails and 26,000 acres of open space

• Infrastructure investments, including major repair of trail bridges and historic facilities and expanded access to some 8,400 acres of park lands for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding

• Open space acquisition and protection

• Regional trail development, including the Lake to Sound Trail through five South King County cities

• Capital improvements and infrastructure repair of local parks systems in King County’s 39 cities

• Operations, maintenance, environmental education, and capital improvements at the Woodland Park Zoo

The Task Force looked at the Parks and Recreation Division’s current inventory and operations, levels of service, and critical infrastructure priorities, as well as at the recreation needs of the county’s growing population. The panel concluded that the county should ask voters to renew support for parks and trails through a property tax levy lid lift.

In 2007, King County voters approved two parks-related levies: One to support operations and maintenance of the county’s parks and trails, and one to support open space protection and regional trail development for the county and its 39 cities, as well as operations, programs and capital improvements at Woodland Park Zoo. The levies passed by 63 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

“The Parks Division has done an excellent job navigating these difficult economic times, and it was clear to task force members that now is the time to make repairs and improvements that have been delayed,” said Louise Miller, task force co-chair and former County Councilmember who also served on previous parks-related citizen committees.

“Whether in a city or out in a rural area, our parks, trails and natural areas in King County provide recreation opportunities, protect our environment and keep our communities healthy,” said Jeff Watling, task force co-chair and city of Kent director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

The task force’s recommendations will help inform Constantine’s funding proposal for the future of the county’s parks, trails, and open space. His proposal is expected to be forwarded to the King County Council early next year.

Coming from all parts of the county, the task force represented a diversity of interests and perspectives, including recreation groups, community-based organizations, environmental groups, and land use and parks and recreation professionals.

They worked from June to November, using a consensus-based, decision-making approach to develop recommendations. The task force report and roster can be found at www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/about/levy.aspx.

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