Council weighs bond options

NORTH BEND The City Council tentatively decided June 18 to raise North Bend's portion of money to purchase Tollgate Farm by running a ballot measure for September's primary election.

The measure is a bond that will cost $3.56 million in the general obligation category for parks and open space. That amount is just part of the city's portion for Tollgate, which totals $5 million, with the rest of the money coming from grants. Originally, officials suggested the bond would be set at $3 million, but $560,000 was added because additional county grants they thought the city could receive, did not materialize.

If passed, the bond would cost taxpayers 61 cents or less per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. For a house assessed at $200,000, property taxes would be raised $10.18 per month, or $122.16 per year. The tax would go into a fund separate from all other city moneys and would not be used for anything but the acquisition of Tollgate property.

But the tricky part of running this bond is how it must be passed, because there are two criterions to be met. First, the Sept. 18 primary election has to be validated. To validate, at least 805 voters, which is 40 percent of the total voters in the City tallied at last November's presidential election, have to cast their choice for the Tollgate bond. If less than that number of voters go to the polls, the bond is null and void. Second, at least 60 percent of the 805 ballots cast must be yes votes. The last day to register to vote in the upcoming September election is Aug. 18.

"The long and the short of it is we need 483 yes votes," said Elena Montgomery, city treasurer.

City council members at a recent work-study session debated how to present the bond and decided on a 20-year option. Their other option was to lift the property tax levy lid, which would have been more costly to taxpayers at $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value instead of the 61 cents, but would have paid off the debt in 9 years instead of 20. Ultimately, council members decided 61 cents per $1,000 would be less burdensome on taxpayers than $1.04, or $17.34 per month.

Councilman Mark Sollitto said his concern in making the choice to pursue the 20-year bond was because of the amount of taxes North Bend residents have been hit with in the last year. In 2000, the city increased sewer and water rates 20 percent to provide a cushion for the budget and to improve infrastructure, and just recently, a stormwater and flooding utility tax was approved for $12.36 per month.

"I was concerned that with [the recent taxes and increases] as a backdrop, 10.18 per month was much less than the $17.34 that would have been imposed for the levy lid. In addition, I was concerned about impacts to low-income seniors. Under the 20-year bond, low-income seniors would be able to get a discount on property taxes."

Although most council members are not keen on raising taxes, they are posting this bond because the public has asked them to help save Tollgate Farm.

The "farm" is 409-acres of historically significant land in North Bend that was a Native American gathering and food-harvesting site for thousands of years. The property also holds evidence of some of the ValleyOs first European-American settlers. It is also one of the last remaining parcels of cleared land in the area that has not been developed. The Miller family, who are the propertyOs owners, were fully entrenched in the permitting process to develop the land when they agreed to sell if money is raised. They had proposed a 1 million-square-foot business park and a 34-lot residential subdivision for the site. Many North Bend residents have rallied to preserve the property as open space, citing its views, natural landscape and shelter for wildlife as reasons. They have also said building on the flood-prone site would cause further flooding damage to North Bend and cities downstream.

Because of the property's aesthetic, cultural and natural value, North Bend recently developed a purchasing partnership between King County and The Trust For Public Land, an organization that obtains private funding for the purchase of open space. Tollgate Farm's total purchase price is somewhere between $12 million and $14 million, and the Trust has secured a purchase option on the property. King County is contributing $3 million this year and possibly $2 million each year for the next two years. Along with North Bend's portion and private donations, county and city officials are hoping to raise enough money.

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