Ferndale council picks tax rate for parks, trails

The Bellingham Herald

If city voters form a new taxing district in Ferndale, their property taxes would go up by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for parks and trails.

That was what the Ferndale City Council promised by a 5-1 vote on Monday, April 6. Council member Cathy Watson was the no vote; Jon Mutchler was absent.

“I can’t support 50 cents,” Watson said. “I think it’s too much.”

She had hoped for a rate of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, but the other council members didn’t agree.

The measure to form a metropolitan park district is on the Nov. 3 ballot. Approval by voters would mean the owner of a $250,000 home would see his or her property tax go up by $125 a year.

The 50-cent levy rate would generate about $581,000 a year for parks and trails.

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.

As part of the same vote on Monday, the council also approved a six-year parks maintenance and capital improvement program to let residents know what projects would be funded by the property tax increase.

“This plan is not designed to replace what we’re doing. It’s designed to enhance what we’re doing,” Sam Taylor, assistant city administrator, said of the assurance that the new money wouldn’t replace what the city spends now on parks and trails.

The 50-cent rate was the level recommended by the Parks, Recreation and Trails Advisory Board.

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 or for adequate maintenance, city leaders have said.

The city now 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.

The 50-cent rate and the six-year plan are linked.

Taylor said the projects in the plan reflect what residents have been asking the city to provide, as well as the needs the advisory board found during a “boots on the ground” audit of the city’s parks and trails system. The projects are also in the Ferndale parks master plan.

“This will take care of what you want to do in the community,” Taylor said of the message to voters with the proposed 50-cent rate.

A 25-cent rate, which would raise nearly $291,000 a year, wouldn’t be enough to pay for requested projects as well as maintenance, he said.

“We need both of those things,” Taylor said. “This is what the community’s asked for. This is what would make it work.”

In terms of new capital projects, the additional money could go toward upgrading the Phillips 66 baseball fields; building new trails, a skatepark, a fenced-in 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.