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Originally published Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 5:58 PM

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Editorial: Hold the Seattle Park District to its promises

Seattle voters are approving the formation of a Seattle Park District, but they should hold the new tax district to its campaign promises.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SEATTLE Proposition 1 appears headed for passage. No surprise, since the campaign to form a Seattle Park District was heavy on the “everyone loves parks” rhetoric and light on the governance details about the creation of an entirely new taxing authority.

Taxpayers must remain vigilant.

This new taxing authority is permanent. Voters will no longer be asked every few years whether they approve of how their money is being spent on parks through levy renewal measures.

Prop. 1 hands oversight of the district and about $48 million in its first year — twice the amount of the expiring parks levy — to the Seattle City Council, which will serve as the Park District’s board.

If City Council members want to raise property taxes from the initial rate of 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to 75 cents per $1,000 for parks, they may do so without asking voters. The current levy rate is about 20 cents per $1,000.

An agreement preserves at least in annual general-fund dollars for parks, but the city’s obligation can be reduced or diverted in an emergency.

Voters should demand that the mayor and council keep their $89 million general-fund promise to parks.

The transparency, specific asks and expiration dates contained in previous park levies are why 59 percent of voters passed the last parks levy in 2008 and 55 percent supported a similar levy in 2000.

Wednesday’s ballot count showed about 53 percent in favor of the Park District.

Voters, take a look at your neighborhood parks. Are those dirty bathrooms and leaky pipes getting fixed? Or is the money going to public-private ventures such as the Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Aquarium or the planned waterfront park?

The council gets to decide.

“Woodland Park Zoo has paid lobbyists. How do you as a citizen or a community organization compete against that?” warns Don Harper, a parks advocate who opposed Proposition 1 and supports a levy.

A citizens committee is supposed to provide nonbinding recommendations to the district. It must act independently and serve as a vocal counterbalance to the council.

The only other tool left for citizens to voice their displeasure is City Council elections. Beginning in 2015, most members will be elected by district instead of at-large. Incumbents will be vulnerable to challengers.

Remember that if the Park District fails to live up to its many promises.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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