With Prop 1, voters decide the future of sustainable funding for walkways, safe connections, parks, and recreation in LFP

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

On Saturday, October 16, 2021 at 1pm, Third Place Commons invites you to the Lake Forest Park Prop 1 Pros and Cons Forum. More information here. Register here

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By Luanne Brown

Voters in Lake Forest Park (LFP) will be voting on Proposition 1 in the upcoming election on November 2, 2021. The ballot measure says:

November 2, 2021 General and Special Election


The full wording of Resolution No. 1810 can be found here.

What are the main points of Resolution No 1810?

The issues surrounding Prop 1 are complex, but when distilled to its essence, it can be summarized as follows:

The City wants to permanently increase that portion of our property taxes that is paid to Lake Forest Park, which is 9 percent of your total King County tax bill. These additional funds will add up to $2 million dollars yearly which will give the city the ability to pay the debt on $20 million worth of Bonds used to raise money to fund projects identified by the City through the Safe Streets study and the PROST Plan (Parks, Recreation, Open Spaces, Trails) as well from citizen input.

Who determines how this money will be used?

The Council is setting the rules for that now and will discuss and vote on this question at the Thursday, October 14th meeting.

The Parks Board, under the rules the Council is developing, will provide citizen input on priorities and there is also opportunity for public comment at Park Board meetings and City Council meetings.

Why is this issue coming up now?

According to Deputy Mayor and Councilmember Phillippa Kassover, the City Council began discussing the need for a new source of revenue, prior to the pandemic, to fulfill the Safe Streets and PROST plans.

“We were not able to follow through in 2020, as the Governor’s emergency orders required cities to prioritize essential services for several months. Council began discussing these needs again in Spring of 2021, following our completion of the Town Center code. 
"Due to inflation and the Bond market variabilities, the longer the city waits to secure a new stream of revenue to accomplish the priorities in the Safe Streets and PROST plan, the more expensive these projects will become, and the less the city will be able to accomplish.”

Why not do a bond without a levy lid lift?


According to Kassover, the City administration has warned that simply selling bonds to cover construction costs is not a feasible option, as under the current budget the city would not have the resources to pay the interest on the bonds, hire additional staff to develop the detailed plans and estimates required for the bond sale, nor operate and maintain new facilities if they were built. That is why the 2021 Council discussions focused on a levy lid lift as the best option.

Why are additional property taxes necessary to pay for these improvements?

Unlike many surrounding cities, LFP does not have a significant commercial tax base to rely on for money to fund these improvement projects. So, if residents of LFP want better roads, sidewalks, and parks, we will have to pay more in property taxes to fund and maintain these improvements.

Why not write grants or use REET (real estate excise tax) funds to pay for these improvements?

Kassover says that the City has had some success writing grants and has raised money for culverts but was not successful in finding funding for sidewalks. 

“If we look at all the letters and emails that we get from citizens, setting aside the town center issues, the number one thing we hear about from our citizens is safety. The fact that someone could lose their life because our streets are unsafe affected us deeply as council members. 
"We have also applied to the U. S. Department of Transportation, Safe Routes to School program but there we compete with other cities. Also, for some grants, you must have matching funds which we don’t. And our REET funds are already spoken for.”

Why does this levy lid lift have to be permanent?

This aspect of the resolution has strong convictions on both sides, making it the most contentious point of argument.

The Pro

From the City Council’s point of view, leaving the levy lid lift open-ended ensures that the City can make and maintain street improvements and operate and maintain the new park the City creates. They see it as a positive and responsible decision that means they won’t have to defer maintenance or ask citizens for more money down the line to pay to keep these improvements in good condition.

The YES FOR SIDEWALKS SAFE STREETS AND PARKS group says on their Facebook page that, 

“the reason the council decided to leave this levy open ended rather than suggest a specific number of years is to ensure that the funding would always be available for operations and maintenance of our new park improvements and new sidewalks and safe streets infrastructure.

"Council wants to avoid the burden incurred by taxpayers when cities do not plan for maintenance of the assets. Deferred maintenance leads to significant decline in the function and value of physical assets and requires enormous amounts of money to eventually repair or rebuild.”

They compare what they've done to the actions of a responsible homeowner who must budget for maintenance and repairs as well as pay for the mortgage. In other words, not only do we have to pay for something, we must take care of what we pay for it. This obligation continues even after the bonds are paid for and this maintenance cost is expected to increase over time.

This group has gone with a ‘MINI Filer’ designation with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) where no campaign reporting is required. However, Kassover, who serves as treasurer, says they have raised $3500. Their top four contributors have each contributed $500. Their names are Stacie Johnson, Semra Riddle, Lois Lee, and Francois Pondemer.

The Con

Jeff Snedden, the major contributor to the opposition group, says that if this permanent aspect of the levy lid lift were not there, that he would vote ‘yes’ on the proposition. Steven Plusch, Chair of this ‘vote no’ effort agrees. “If it had been a limited term, we (our group) wouldn’t be here.”

Plusch says their group supports safe streets and parks but there is a better way to go about getting them, which warrants more study. 

Sneddon adds, “This (proposition) shouldn’t have been put on the ballot. It should have been studied more. We should have had a better understanding of the priorities across three different very important things the city is facing: parks, streets, and the development downtown.”

However, on their website, this group states that “This type of permanent levy lift is unprecedented.” That is not true, according to Diann Locke, a Levies and Appeals Specialist with the Property Tax Division of the Washington State Department of Revenue. 

Instead, she says, “From my experience as an auditor, I have seen many taxing districts with voter approved permanent lid lifts.” The State allows the governing body to set those terms and red lights do not automatically flash when they encounter one in an audit.

The ‘vote no’ group, Neighbors for A Sustainable LFP 2021, according to the PDC has, as of 10/11/21 raised $13,774.06 from 18 individuals and three businesses, including $100 of small contributions from undesignated sources. Their top four donors include: Sneddon ($5000), Jack Tonkin ($3000), Donald Nibouar ($2000), Plusch ($1000).

​How much will our taxes increase if Prop 1 passes?

Currently the City gets 9 percent of our King County property taxes to pay for City services. The cost to the taxpayer will increase only on the part of their taxes that are paid to LFP, not their total King County tax bill. When the percentage increase is cited without the qualification, that it is 61 percent of 9 percent, it is an untrue statement.

The “vote no” group has, on more than one occasion, not properly qualified their use of the 61 percent figure. 

One of those times being in the Statement in opposition to the levy on the King County Election website, where it says, “There are better ways to fund them than permanently increasing property taxes 61 percent...” 

Another time they cited this figure without accurate qualification is on their homepage, under the headline "Excessive" where they say, “Prop 1's 61 percent increase is far and away the largest tax increase ever proposed in Lake Forest Park.” 

It is not clear that it is 61 percent of a much smaller number relative to the total amount paid of property tax paid by property owners in LFP. When this was brought to the attention of Sneddon and Plusch they say it was an unintentional error and cited the lack of time they had to prepare their opposition. These errors are exceptions as there are additional cases where they have properly qualified that figure.

Example of the impact of the levy lid lift on one household

In this example:
  • A homeowner has an assessed property value (according to the County Assessor) of $624,000.
  • In 2021, the King County Property Tax Bill for this property is $7055.
  • Of that amount 9 percent or $610 per year comes back to the City of LFP.
  • Under the new levy, that amount will increase $372 for a total property tax of $7427 ($7055 + $372)
  • If Prop 1 passes, $982 ($610 + $372) will be the new amount coming to the City.
  • Now the homeowner who used to pay 9 percent, will pay 13 percent for an increase of 4 percent in the tax that goes to LFP.

Additional pro and con statements

Pro: Council Member Lorri Bodi, on Nextdoor

“The ballot measure is complicated. It's capped to raise a flat $2M per year (permanently) with no adjustment for inflation, so as mentioned the revenue will decline in real spending power over time. The levy rate is not locked in, but will likely also decline over time, to raise just the $2M.

"The levy could provide a revenue stream for construction bonds if that’s the best bang for the buck. Once sidewalks and recreation facilities are built, the funds will be used for maintenance and repair of the new improvements. Even the initial priority list for sidewalks and recreation totals about $12-19M based on 2018 costs. Sidewalks and other improvements are expensive.

"We have tried but been unable to fund these community-recommended improvements for public enjoyment and safety through grants or other means. Even the sidewalks to schools which are "shovel ready" have been rejected more than once. Prop1 makes clear that the funds are absolutely dedicated and can’t be used for other purposes, even by a future Council. 

"There will be a public annual implementation plan to identify upcoming priority projects, timelines, and costs. The community Parks and Recreation Board will partner with the Council on setting these implementation plan priorities and public engagement. There will also be an annual report on what was accomplished, for accountability to the community."

What do people who oppose the resolution say?

On their website, opponents to the measure claim without supporting details that “there is a better way” to do this. “I’ve seen nothing about prioritizing the studies and making choices about what a city of 13,500 plus people can afford,” Sneddon says. He says it is, “a real serious issue that has not been addressed.” But Sneddon also wonders, “Are we overreaching? Are we spending too much money?” He also believes that “not in every case is government doing the right or best thing for the community."

And with regard to the new waterfront park, Sneddon indicates that people who aren’t eligible for membership in the two private waterfront parks that already exist currently have the option to go to Log Boom Park, Matthews Beach, or other beaches within easy commuting distance from Lake Forest Park.

What does the future hold for Lake Forest Park?

The City of Lake Forest Park wants to invest in their community long term for safer streets, more sidewalks, and improved parks, including a new waterfront park.

On November 2, 2021 voters in LFP will have the opportunity to choose whether they want to fund projects that will provide additional sidewalks for safer walking, calming methods to address increased traffic in and through the city, and improved park amenities. Or not.

Whatever your choice, make your voices heard and vote.



1 comments:

On My Journey October 14, 2021 at 11:11 AM  

Thank you Luanne Brown for this very thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of Prop 1 Pro & Con. And thank you Shoreline Area News for your civic presence as a source of local journalism. It matters greatly to our Democratic civil society!!

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