BELLINGHAM - It's too close to determine whether southwest Bellingham voters will form a metropolitan park district to tax property owners to help pay for the city's purchase of Chuckanut Ridge, according to early ballot returns Tuesday, Feb. 12.
The measure was squeaking by with 50.7 percent approval, and 49.3 percent voting no. Just 44 votes separated the two sides, with 3,282 votes counted on Tuesday.
The next ballot count will be released at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
It needs a simple majority to pass.
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"Clearly the voters are split as to whether or not this park district idea has merit," said Bill Geyer, who lives in the proposed district and is chairman of the campaign against the measure. "We don't have agreement that a park district is good, that's clear."
Supporters said they pushed for the ballot measure until the end and are waiting to see what last-minute voters decided.
"We are up a little bit. We had certainly hoped to be more definitively up," said Robyn du Pre, a member of the steering committee that worked to put the measure on the ballot. She owns a home in the proposed district.
"It's all about the last-minute voters. We feel like we ran a grass-roots campaign. We did a lot of last-minute outreach," she added Tuesday night. "Will that affect whatever shows up in the mail tomorrow? I don't know."
If approved by voters, the proposed Chuckanut Community Forest Park District's boundaries would roughly encompass southwest Bellingham - south of Western Washington University and west of Interstate 5 to the water.
The citizens' coalition that gathered the signatures to place the measure on the ballot said property owners in the district would pay 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $300,000 home, for example, would pay $84 a year.
The money would repay the $3.2 million loan from the city Greenways endowment fund that helped pay the $8.2 million price tag for the city's purchase of the 82-acre Chuckanut Ridge, also known as the Hundred Acre Wood.
Supporters said the park district's sole purpose would be to repay the loan by levying the tax for 10 years. Once that's done, it will disband, they said.
When the City Council approved the purchase in August 2011, members gave themselves six years to repay the loan. The council also said a portion of the property could be sold to cover the loan, if no other means could be found.
In addition to deciding whether to form a metropolitan park district in the Feb. 12 special election, voters in that district also are selecting five commissioners to serve on a governing board. The commissioners will serve only if voters form the district.
Early results in the commissioner races were:
Cathy McKenzie, 83.6 percent.
Patricia Montgomery, 16.4 percent.
John Hymas, 52.9 percent.
Dan Remsen, 47.1 percent.
Susan Kaun, 80.5 percent.
Jan Brown withdrew but still got 19.5 percent.
Vincute (Vince) Biciunas (unopposed), 100 percent.
John Brown, 63.4 percent.
Anna Williams, 36.6 percent.