Levies could fund Cougar Mountain trailhead, other projects

January 15, 2013

By Warren Kagarise

King County voters could decide soon on dollars to complete the East Lake Sammamish Trail, add a Cougar Mountain trailhead in Issaquah, and continue funding parks and trails countywide.

Late last year, King County Parks Levy Task Force members unanimously recommended continuing a pair of six-year levies to support county-run parks, trails and open space. Voters overwhelmingly approved the most recent pair of park levies in 2007.

The voter-approved levies fund the bulk of park operations, but the property tax measures expire in December 2013. In June, King County Executive Dow Constantine convened the task force to explore options for future funding.

The 22-member task force — a group of business and community leaders — recommended a property tax levy to generate about $60.9 million over a six-year period, based upon a rate of 19.01 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. Officials estimate the cost for a home valued at $337,000 to be $64 per year in 2014.

On the Web

Read the King County Parks Levy Task Force’s recommendations for a 2013 property tax levy lid lift to fund county parks, trails and open space at www.kingcounty.gov/ recreation/parks/about/levy.aspx.

Constantine or the King County Council could adjust the recommended levy rate put to voters.

Under the existing structure, homeowners pay a parks operating levy set at 5 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value and another 5-cent levy for open space and trails.

The task force also recommended connecting and expanding trails and open space, and repairing aging recreation facilities.

“We have a great opportunity to make King County’s parks and trails even more accessible and inter-connected,” task force co-chairwoman Kathy Surace-Smith said in a statement. “This is the legacy we want to build on and protect for future generations.”

The county park system includes the 3,115-acre Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Grand Ridge Park and Duthie Hill Park in the Issaquah area.

In December 2010, the county purchased 41 acres on Cougar Mountain near Issaquah. Issaquah officials eyed the property for decades, and a city trails plan completed in 1992 identified the parcel as a key piece in the regional trails network. The land is just beyond city limits.

The plan to create a trailhead along Newport Way Northwest could add the only access point to the park’s trail network accessible by bus, bicycle or on foot.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the East Lake Sammamish Trail through Issaquah, and the recommended parks levies could fund the trail’s further expansion.

The regional trail closed through Issaquah in May for up to a year as crews remove the existing gravel surface and construct a 12-foot asphalt trail.

The path unfurls along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad corridor. The completed East Lake Sammamish Trail is meant to stretch 44 miles from Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to Issaquah.

The county is also working to improve access to Grand Ridge Park and Mitchell Hill Forest.

Other dollars from the levies could support Duthie Hill Park, athletic fields in Preston and regional trails snaking through the area.

Constantine must next make a recommendation about the levies to the council. Then, council members must decide whether to put the measure on the ballot.

“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,” he said in a statement.

In 2007, King County voters approved a parks levy to support operations and maintenance for parks and trails, and another levy to support open space protection and regional trail development for the county and the 39 cities, plus operations, programs and capital improvements at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

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