- Seattle Municipal Archives
- The Volunteer Park wading pool in 1936.
How do we pay for a functional parks system full of cool, clean—ha-ha—wading pools in the heat of summer?
Well, for years we've been funding a lot of it with property-tax levies, and levies kinda suck. Instead of the city having a dedicated funding source for a basic service like parks, they go to the voters every six years and run a big, long, expensive campaign to beg us to approve new funding for ongoing, necessary expenditures—everything from fixing leaky roofs to sprucing up new green spaces to filtering all that toddler pee out of the wading pool. (Um, we hope?) But we can only raise so much money that way, and Seattle's parks have a massive maintenance backlog. At the same time, we're fast closing in on an overall cap that limits how much money we can raise via levies—especially since our fast-growing city also wants to be able to tax ourselves to pay for infrastructure like quality public preschools and a functional transit system—the kind of shit Olympia will never deliver.
So, a fix: Under state law, a city can vote to create a parks district, which will authorize new property taxes that can only be spent on parks and leaves us with a little more room in our levy capacity for other fun stuff. The city council would basically double as the parks governing board, the way they do for our Transportation Benefits District, with an oversight committee added on top of that. It's true: It gives the city new ability to tax you, at a rate of around $150 a year for a $400,000 house. The horrors! Taxing ourselves to pay for important city resources!
This is why it's too hard to take the no side seriously—they're focused on whiny baby stuff about "permanent" taxes and how levies are awesome because voters have to sign off on the taxes directly. But this is how the democratic process works: We elect leaders who set taxes and build budgets and fund infrastructure, and when they fuck it up, we vote them out. Vote "for."