Ferndale voters to decide whether to OK tax for parks, trails

City voters will decide in November whether to form a new taxing district to raise money for parks and trails in Ferndale.

The City Council voted Tuesday, Feb. 17, to put the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot. The vote was 6-1, with council member Jon Mutchler opposed.

The council would govern the metropolitan park district should residents OK it, essentially voting to raise their property taxes.

The district would have the same boundaries as the city.

Ferndale officials have been looking for additional sources of revenue for the city’s green space. 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 money in the budget for such projects, city leaders have said. The city spends about $450,000 a year now just to maintain Ferndale parks and green spaces.

Mutchler voted against putting the measure on the ballot for a number of reasons.

He was concerned about asking voters for parks and trails money when they’ll soon be asked to pay for an $82 million jail and new Ferndale High School. He also wondered about its chances given that previous issues that went before voters, such as funding for a new library and a tax to pay for streets, had constituents behind it.

“I’m not sure who’s pushing this and going to support it,” Mutchler said.

He also wanted the City Council to decide how much property taxes would be raised before placing the proposal on the November ballot.

Council member Cathy Watson has long opposed the proposal, citing concerns about asking Ferndale voters for money when school and jail funding requests are expected to go before residents at some point.

But she decided Tuesday to put the issue on the ballot.

“We’ll let voters decide what they want to do,” Watson said, adding that she wanted a “lengthy discussion” about the tax rate.

While voters will decide the fate of a metropolitan park district, they won’t vote directly on how much to raise their property taxes. That would be up to the City Council sitting as the district’s board.

As they have stated previously, council members said Tuesday they would tell voters, prior to November, whether they would raise property tax rates by up to 25 cents, 50 cents or 75 cents — the increments allowed by state law — per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value.

“It’s imperative that we tell the public what we intend to do. The voters don’t seem to like a blank check,” council member Paul Ingram said.

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

• 25 cents: $62.50 a year.

• 50 cents: $125 a year.

• 75 cents: $187.50 a year.

Also before the November vote, the council plans to show voters a plan of upcoming parks and trail projects.