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Saving ‘Our Si View’: Grassroots campaign ramps up for dual parks district ballot measures
This time last year, Sara Werner was organizing a “Thriller” flash mob for Si View Metro Parks’ Halloween Carnival.
This fall, Werner is managing a different group: The 100-person volunteer effort to mobilize voters and keep the park district’s property tax ability from disappearing.
“It’s an interesting twist,” says Werner. She loved the positive whirl of last year’s all-ages dance. But this fall’s campaign taps another kind of energy.
“The people joining the campaign are enthusiastic. They’re passionate about Si View,” Werner said. “But there’s an edge of nervousness. This will be devastating if it doesn’t pass.”
Werner is a leader in the Save Our Si View campaign to restore tax levy ability to the eight-year-old independent parks district.
Because of falling property values, tax cap laws mean that Si View’s levy will be cut by 84 percent, from 53 cents per $1,000 in assessed value to 9 cents, without voter action. Two ballot measures—Prop. 1, a measure to preserve 25 cents of the levy, and Prop. 2, a temporary 1-year restoration of the remainder—would put the district back on its feet, preserving programming. Passage of just one measure shrinks programming options. If both measures fail, Si View would essentially become little more than a caretaker for its 70 year old building, Executive Director Travis Stombaugh says. Neither of the propositions would raise Si View’s tax share.
Working last week to draw up two separate budgets, Stombaugh will present his financial plan for 2012 to the Si View board of commissioners this Wednesday.
One plan assumes that both propositions pass Nov. 8. One assumes that only Prop. 1, with its easier 50 percent majority, will pass.
The smaller budget would make about $470,000 in cuts. Stombaugh proposes to do that by leaving empty positions unfilled, postponing planning and maintenance, and cutting training and tuition.
“I’m trying to spread it so that customers would have the least impact,” he said. That’s important, because user fees make up an increasing share of the budget at Si View.
While tax revenues subsidize 36 percent of programs and 25 percent of capital funds, the tax cap is being hit at a time when use, and revenues, at Si View are on the rise. Use tripled between 2007 and 2010. Last year, Si View had 110,000 visitors.
“We’ve been growing through earned revenue,” Stombaugh said. “If we can keep our programs going, we can keep that up.”
Si View has 11 full-time workers and about 40 seasonal staff. Failure of both measures would mean the staff would shrink to little more than a director and a maintenance person.
In the event of a total bond failure, Stombaugh expects the pool to close. The before- and after-school programs, summer camps, youth basketball, adult softball, the annual Halloween and holiday parties and the Si View Farmer’s Market and summer concerts would also be on the chopping block. There would be fewer staff to help with the Festival at Mount Si. Most remaining programs would have to be volunteer-based.
As a contracted dance teacher for Si View, Werner, like all Si View staff, can’t advocate for the measures while on the job. Public disclosure laws limit Si View employees in the use of park district resources to push the vote—for example, campaigners will be on the sidewalk along Orchard Street, not in the gym, touting Props 1 and 2 during Si View’s Oct. 29 Halloween carnival.
Still, the historic community center and the programs it hosts have become symbols of what is at stake. At an Oct. 4 town hall meeting on the measures, hundreds of colored sheets of paper plastered Si View’s multipurpose room. Each sheet listed one of the roughly 300 programs and services that Si View provides.Werner and her fellow campaigners are clear about what would happen if they don’t get out the vote. The Halloween carnival, and many other programs, too, could go away.
She stresses the need to pass both propositions.
“It’s going to affect all of us,” Werner said. “Even if you don’t use the building itself, your neighbors will feel it. And you will feel it.”
Si View Props
King County has a $5.90-per-$1,000 cap on non-voted property taxes. As property values have fallen in the county, tax rates have climbed to accommodate existing levies; Since levy amounts don’t shrink, rates rise to accommodate.
In one of Si View’s four separate taxing districts, that cap was hit in 2011 by a rising county rate. As a consequence, Si View lost the ability to levy taxes. Two ballot measures in the November 8 election are aimed at restoring that ability.
Proposition 1 would exempt 25 cents of Si View’s 53-cent levy from the cap, and requires a 50 percent majority at the polls.
Proposition 2 preserves the remaining levy amount through a one-year operations and maintenance levy, and requires a 60 percent ‘supermajority’ to pass.
Si View parks district includes residents of the greater North Bend area as well as parts of King County adjacent to Snoqualmie city limits.
• Learn more about the Save our Si View campaign at www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Our-Si-View/170381599703698