Opinion

Open space benefits bottom line

My husband and I moved to the Snoqualmie Valley almost 20 years ago because of the natural beauty, open spaces and easy access to urban areas. We stayed here because of the community spirit.

I got involved in local politics because I was concerned about the future of the community. I believe we need a balance of jobs and industry that doesn't deplete the sensitive environment that attracts people to a rural community. That is what we have to offer: our unique, pastoral setting. We can become another Issaquah or Kent Valley. They cannot become us.

Since I was appointed to the Planning Commission in the late '80s, citizens have told me their No. 1 concern was to "retain rural character." While trying to define the term "rural," planning commissioners were asked to take pictures of the Valley representing "rural character" to them.

All seven commissioners came back with a picture of the Tollgate Farm. The comprehensive plan, adopted in 1995, contains a goal to purchase "all or part of the Tollgate Farm."

A Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce survey identified "retain rural character" as the top goal, along with nearly 80 percent of 6,800 in the 1999 communitywide survey. The majority expressed a willingness to pay to preserve parks, open space and trails. I have taken you at your word.

The Tollgate Farm was the first viable farm in the Upper Valley, and now it is the last. For the first time in more than 100 years, the Tollgate Farm can be purchased and brought into public ownership. Voters have one opportunity to choose unique parks, open space, ballfields, trails and farmland, or 1 million square feet of industrial park.

The decision is yours. I have made many choices in your name over the years; this one is yours. If you choose not to, or forget to vote, someone else will make the decision for you.

Some issues raised: Can we afford this? Studies all over the United States show open-space preservation is not an expense, but an investment - one that produces important economic benefits.

As a widow on a fixed income, I share citizens' concerns about increased costs. Some things are worth paying for, and I truly believe the Tollgate Parks and Open Space Bond is one.

The figures are confusing because North Bend receives just a small amount (15 percent) of your property tax payment. The North Bend portion goes up 35 percent, but the proposed assessment represents a mere 5 percent increase in your total property tax. The cost at 61 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation will never go up; in fact, it will go down as new residents share the cost. It goes into a separate pot of money that cannot be used for any maintenance or operation costs.

In the joint 400-acre project, the city and county each pay half. The county money comes from the real estate excise tax collected on real-estate sales outside the city, in King County. There will be no new county tax to pay for this property. You will not be taxed twice.

The recent A-minus bond rating the city received testifies to the overall financial health of the city. It is understood in political circles that property tax alone does not pay the costs incurred by a jurisdiction for providing infrastructure, health and safety needs.

Sales tax is the "bread and butter" of North Bend's general fund. Property tax provides only about 25 percent of city revenues. The city is not going broke; we will not disincorporate with or without this bond issue.

Recently one opponent of the Tollgate purchase reported some inaccurate figures. To set the record straight, the city is just starting the transportation plan update. There is no factual basis to a $100 million estimate of transportation improvements.

The city has not spent $250,000 in unrecovered expenses on Tollgate. All consultant fees have been charged to, and paid by, the project proponent. I will not "mud-wrestle," but I do take issue with anyone who manipulates the facts to mislead the public.

As to who can vote on the proposition, per state law, only voters who live inside city limits can vote on the Tollgate proposition. I agree it would be preferable if property or business owners and all people affected by any measure could vote on it. That is not the law.

Because city decisions affect so many people, I have always encouraged county residents to be active participants in North Bend advisory boards and commissions. Currently, we have a near 50-50 split living inside and outside the city limits. They all have a direct voice in decision making. I believe the vast majority support the proposition.

Communities from Maine to Texas find that smart growth and land preservation actually save money because fewer services and infrastructure needs are required.

You don't have to choose between economic growth and open space. Smart growth does not cost, but rather, it pays by attracting homeowners, tourists and new business. Open space is good for the bottom line, and good for our quality of life.

I urge you to vote "yes" on Sept. 18. The decision is yours.


(Editor's note: Joan Simpson is the mayor of North Bend.)

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