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City exploring creation of municipal parks district

If a municipal park district ran Auburn's parks and recreation program, costs and savings would result in a net benefit to the City of Auburn of about $5 million.

Freed from shouldering the cost of running the program, City Financial Director Shelley Coleman told members of the Planning and Community Development Committee this week, Auburn's leaders could direct funds to other critical purposes, including streets.

Councilwoman Nancy Backus wondered what extra park benefits or improvements voters could expect in return for the extra tax money they would put out to support an MPD.

Coleman presented the bones of the idea to the committee Monday.

Municipal park districts are not uncommon in the state of Washington. The City of Tacoma has had one in place since the turn of the last century. The City of Pullman created one several years ago to keep its parks program solvent. The City of Des Moines created one soley to administer its swimming pool.

According to state law, Coleman said, it takes a simple majority vote to set up an MPD. The route to that public vote is a citizen petition or a city council resolution.

A MPD may be inside or outside a city's boundaries. If it's inside, a city does not have to present its case to a county boundary review board.

An MPD is its own taxing authority. It levies taxes, does its own financial reporting and has its own budget. And because an MPD provides its own financial reports, it's subject to regular audits.

The levy allowed under state law is 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. An MPD can go out and, by garnering a supermajority of the turnout in the most recent election, issue voted debt of up to 2.5 percent of assessed value.

Between the state of Washington's maximum $3.60 per $1,000 rate limit and the consolidated levy of King County and all the cities and junior taxing districts ($5.90), the total is $9.50.

The important thing there, Coleman said, is that the 50-cent gap between the total statutory limit of $10 and $9.50 means capacity for another junior taxing district.

"I think that's a very important thing to know, that there is capacity there," Coleman said.

Coleman said the City would lose about $2 million in revenue and about $7 million in costs, with a net benefit to the City of about $5 million.

Coleman said her study of the subject had encompassed the entire administrative budget for parks, arts and recreation, including the golf course and maintenance and recreation fees.

She left out special events, arts programs and the White River Valley Museum, in the belief that the city council might like to maintain say over those.

And what would people get in return for their tax dollars?

Coleman said an MPD maintains the existing programs city residents want and maintains the parks as they are now. It also would create a vehicle to go out and issue debt for new facilities, if that's what residents wanted.

And it would free up funds for transportation improvements.

"My biggest concern," Backus said, "is that people are going to say, 'I have that now, now you are threatening to take it away from me, or charge me to keep it.' I am all for getting our roads done and maintaining our great parks, but I am having difficulties looking at this as a full positive."

"The bottom line," said Councilman John Holman, "is that taxes would go up 75 cents per thousand."

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