Ferndale City Council to ask voters to help pay for parks and trails

New taxing district sought

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 5, 2014 

Vanderyacht Park in Ferndale

Garrett Lathrop throws his service dog, Bergy, a treat along a trail at Vanderyacht Park in Ferndale July 7, 2011.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

FERNDALE - A split City Council wants to ask voters to create a new taxing district to raise money for parks and trails in Ferndale.

The council voted 4-3 on Monday, Feb. 3, to look at a metropolitan park district within the city's boundaries. Jon Mutchler, Keith Olson and Carol Bersch voted no.

"You all know my passion about parks, my passion for trails. The voters, I think, are asking for this," Mayor Gary Jensen said.

Residents often ask the city for more amenities, including playground and recreation equipment in neighborhood parks, as well as trails linking the parks, but there isn't enough money in the budget, city leaders said.

Jensen had wanted the council to use the boundary for the Ferndale School District for the metropolitan park district in order to raise more money from a larger tax base.

As for Mutchler, he said he had a hard time deciding whether the park's boundaries should be made up of the city or the school district.

"But I agree with the concept and at the end of the day would/will support either," Mutchler said in an email interview.

Some council members didn't think voters living in the school district but outside the city - such as those in Custer, up near Blaine or on Lummi Island - would vote to create it.

Nor should those residents be asked to pay for amenities that would be in Ferndale, according to Councilwoman Cathy Watson.

"I am not comfortable asking someone in the county to spend that much money per year knowing that most of that money is going to be spent in Ferndale," Watson said.

So it will be up to Ferndale voters to decide whether they want to create such a park district.

Next up for the City Council: Deciding when to put the measure on the ballot; whether to have voters elect a separate board of commissioners or have the City Council fulfill that function; and how much to raise property taxes to generate money for parks and trails.

While voters would decide the fate of a metropolitan park district, they wouldn't vote directly on how much to raise their property taxes. That would be up to park district commissioners, but Ferndale leaders would let voters know whether property tax rates would be raised by up to 25 cents, 50 cents or 75 cents per $1,000 of a home's assessed value.

The council doesn't seem to be leaning toward the highest figure.

"Think of what you're asking people to pay every year," Watson said on Monday.

Here's how much more the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 would pay at a rate of:

-- 25 cents: $62.50 a year.

-- 50 cents: $125 a year.

-- 75 cents: $187.50 a year.

The corresponding revenue generated a year would total $274,238; $603,324; or $822,714.

Watson said she wouldn't support a levy rate greater than 25 cents, noting that a Ferndale School District bond is going before voters Feb. 11.

"There's a lot of need. You don't want to keep coming to people more and more; $60 is not small change," Watson said in an interview.

She said the money raised at the lowest level could be used to leverage more dollars through grants, akin to what the city has managed to do with money raised for roads, made possible with a sales tax hike, through the Transportation Benefit District.

"The bottom line is we're trying to just get a little more money to get more grants, so we can focus on these neighborhood parks and put trails between parks," Watson said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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