Ferndale council to take up possible tax rate for parks, trails

If Ferndale residents decide in November to form a metropolitan park district, they also could be agreeing to raise their property taxes by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for parks and trails.

The City Council already has put the proposal for the new taxing district before Ferndale voters. The council’s next step at its meeting Monday, April 6, will be to determine the property tax levy rate, as well as approve a plan for what projects would receive funding should voters OK the park district on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The council is trying to make its plans clear, because while voters will decide the fate of a park district, they won’t vote directly on how much to raise their property taxes. That would be up to the council, sitting as the park district’s board.

On Monday, the council’s public safety and neighborhood services committee voted 2-1 to recommend the 50-cent rate and a six-year parks maintenance and capital improvement program to the full council for next week’s meeting.

State law allows the levy to be assessed at increments of up to 25 cents, 50 cents or 75 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value.

Council member Cathy Watson, who chairs the three-member committee, was the sole no vote. She expressed concern about the levy rate because people were still struggling economically, whether they remained underwater on their mortgages or were paid less in new jobs.

“I’m still not comfortable with the 50 cents,” she said during the committee meeting Monday, March 30.

The 50-cent rate was the level recommended by the Parks, Recreation and Trails Advisory Board. If the council selects 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the owner of a $250,000 home would see his or her property tax go up by $125 a year.

That levy rate would raise a little over $581,000 a year for parks and trails.

The 50-cent rate and the six-year plan that went before the committee on Monday are linked.

Sam Taylor, assistant city administrator, said the plan included parks and trails projects residents have requested over the years. Now, voters will be able to decide.

“You want it? This is how you pay for it. Do you like it?” Taylor said of the proposal that could go before voters. “There is a project for every segment, every age group.”

Ferndale officials have been looking for additional revenue for the city’s 120-plus acres of 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 currently spends about $450,000 a year just to maintain Ferndale parks and green spaces. Revenue for parks collected from new home construction — known as parks mitigation funds — is being used to pay the debt service for the Centennial Riverwalk and Griffintown Park projects until 2028 and 2030, respectively.

On Monday, the committee also sent to the full council a resolution stating:

• Park district money would add to what the city spends now on parks and trails, not replace it. “Our community wants more done in the parks, not less. We’re committed to that principle,” the staff report said.

• No more than 5 percent of annual revenues would be spent on administrative costs, and that would be to help with project management and grant writing.

• 70 to 80 percent would be spent on capital projects, such as building a new park.

• About 15 to 25 percent would be used for park maintenance. That includes adding a new employee.

In terms of maintenance, the additional money would allow the city to do things such as replace wood chips at playgrounds or lay new gravel on trails more often.

In terms of new capital projects, the additional money could go toward upgrading the Phillips 66 baseball fields; building new trails, a skatepark, a dog park, the Star Park Playground and an interpretive boardwalk along Schell Marsh from the new library to Pioneer Park; and rebuilding the main stage at Pioneer Park.

“The one that’s there is just about rotten,” council member Mel Hansen said of the existing stage.

Capital projects also would include money to study the possibility of building a pool and recreation center in Ferndale. The 50-cent levy rate wouldn’t be enough to build or maintain a pool, the committee was told Monday, but it’s one of the most common requests from residents so city officials wanted to at least explore the possibility.

“This is a way to start that conversation,” Taylor said. “When we weren’t hearing about a pool, we were hearing about a dog park.”

As for the other possible levy rates, here’s how much more the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 would pay at a full:

25 cents: $62.50 a year.

75 cents: $187.50 a year.

Although they haven’t finalized the intended rate, council members previously indicated they didn’t like the highest level.