September 1, 2009
Mothballing parks is not the answer
Klahanie Park is one of the biggest parks on the county’s hit list for mothballing. We understand the need to slice the budget, but the way King County Executive Kurt Triplett decided on which parks to cut maintenance has us concerned.Triplett has selected 39 parks in urban unincorporated areas for mothballing. This means 39 neighborhood parks will have fenced-off playgrounds and locked restrooms, overgrown weeds, grass and brush, and no trash pick-up. Mothballed neighborhood parks will certainly hurt property values to nearby homes.
Triplett’s selection process is purely political. He wants to force homeowner associations or nearby cities to take over the parks. Why he thinks city budgets and HOAs have extra funds for park maintenance is a mystery.
All county residents pay their share (about $20/year on a $400,000 home) of a six-year parks maintenance levy passed in 2007 to fund regional facilities like Marymoor Park, the aquatic center and trail system, and rural unincorporated parks like those in North Bend and Snoqualmie. Those in urban unincorporated areas —typically neighborhood parks — have had maintenance funded by the county’s general budget.
King County officials point out that the county spends $21 million per year subsidizing urban-level services — including park maintenance — to properties in potential annexation areas. Yet they don’t say how much they are collecting in property taxes, other taxes and fees from those same areas.
A couple of decades ago, King County paid for all park maintenance in unincorporated areas, without a special parks levy. Then it grew dependent on voters who couldn’t say no to their parks, freeing tax dollars to be spent on other programs and services. Now the county is ready to wash its hands of its last urban parks.
There are better ways to meet the budget crisis.
Start with selling some of King County’s 25,000 acres of parklands, much of it still undeveloped. Go ahead and transfer ownership of urban parks to cities or organizations willing to take them on. But continue to care for the remaining neighborhood parks, those very parks that best fit the parks system’s mission: to serve communities and enhance quality of life.