On Feb. 12 Southside residents will vote on whether to support a ballot measure, Proposition One, that would authorize the formation of a metropolitan park district. The proponents claim their purpose in establishing the metropolitan park district is to raise funds from Southside property owners to repay $3.2 million the city borrowed from the Greenway endowment fund to pay for what is now being called the Chuckanut Community Forest. Before approval is granted to establish another government entity, all options for repayment should be examined.
It appears the current mood of some of the electorate is that all problems/concerns should be addressed by increasing taxes. Bellingham is a well-educated community and this is the time to think out of the box in order to resolve this issue. Have all options been considered? It appears they have not. Let us consider just three options (two are new and the third has been suggested before).
First of all, why not sell the development rights and retain land ownership? There must be some area in the city that needs these rights in order to develop the site responsibly. In that way the entire acreage would be protected, not just the forest.
Secondly, why not propose and support another Greenways levy that would generate the funds needed to repay the obligation to Greenways? In that manner the financial responsibility will be shared by all property owners. Remember, the borrowing was unanimously approved by the City Council which represents the entire city not just the Southside. This debt was incurred when then-Mayor Pike and the City Council purchased 82 acres for $8,200,000 with $4,500,000 from Greenways III funds, $500,000 from park impact fees and the balance was financed.
Further, this debt must be repaid by Dec. 31, 2017, almost five years from today, plenty of time to consider other options.
Finally, what is wrong with selling a small portion of this site? Considering all of the restrictions placed on development in the city, it will take a long time for any saleable lots to become available. Coupled with the inherent limitations on the site - wet lands, public access - there will not be that many developed lots that would impact the area surrounding the "forest" in question.
Bellingham citizens believe in parks and financially support them at a higher level than most communities our size. One consequence of that support is that our city has an award-winning park system that we should all take pride in. I believe with time, a consensus can be reached without creating another government entity or placing the entire financial responsibility on a small portion of our citizenry.
The proponents claim the metropolitan park district will sunset in 10 years, but, during that time, the district will have a lot of power granted to it under RCW 35.61. Metropolitan park district commissioners would have the authority, without any further vote of the people in the district, to tax property owners up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. In addition, they would have the power to condemn property within and outside of their district.
I urge you to vote no on this proposal and become involved in creating other solutions to repaying the debt to the Greenways Endowment Fund. Keep in mind this debt needs to be repaid by Dec. 31, 2017. There is time to think out of the box and make both sides of the issue winners.
Orphalee Smith lives in the proposed district. She is a certified public accountant and former Bellingham City Council candidate.