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Parks levy expected to go before Blaine voters in 2016

Meaghan McAloney of Vancouver, B.C., walks her dog Daisy through Lincoln Park in Blaine Monday afternoon, July 27, 2015, while geocaching. Blaine City Council will decide whether to put a four-year levy on the Nov. 3 ballot to pay for parks and trails projects
Meaghan McAloney of Vancouver, B.C., walks her dog Daisy through Lincoln Park in Blaine Monday afternoon, July 27, 2015, while geocaching. Blaine City Council will decide whether to put a four-year levy on the Nov. 3 ballot to pay for parks and trails projects The Bellingham Herald

City residents could decide next year whether to raise their property taxes to pay for improvements to parks and trails.

The proposal to put a four-year levy on the Nov. 3 ballot for such projects went before the City Council on Monday, July 27.

The council decided instead that more time was needed when members voted 4-1 to hold off, with the idea of putting a levy before voters in 2016.

Councilman Charlie Hawkins was the no vote. Council members Bonnie Onyon and Steve Lawrenson were absent.

Hawkins wanted to put the measure before residents in November, in part, because it was expected to cost the city less than $5,000 to do so, given the number of other measures and races in that election.

“If we do it now, we’re doing it the cheapest possible way we can do it,” Hawkins said, adding there was plenty of time to get information out to voters before the Nov. 3 election. “We should put it on the ballot and let the voters of Blaine decide.”

Council member Harry Robinson wanted to wait. More time was needed, he said, to let the public know the council was considering putting a levy before voters, to flesh out proposed projects and their costs, and to allow the council to get a big picture of upcoming needs that could be competing for available dollars, including a new building to house the Blaine Library.

The current library building, which the city owns, was remodeled from a city garage in 1988.

“I don’t want to say one is more important than the other,” Robinson said. “I think people have to understand we’re in a great balancing act here. We’re trying to figure out how we can do a number of things with a very limited amount of money and a limited capacity to go to the public and ask for more money.”

The levy proposal grew from a citizens group that first met to try to preserve water views on the west side of Peace Portal Drive in downtown Blaine. After a number of community meetings, that evolved into the current recommendations from the Park and Cemetery Board that were sent to the City Council.

In addition to putting the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, those recommendations laid out:

▪ A four-year levy that would raise $250,000 per year.

▪ A rate of 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $80 more a year in property taxes if voters approve this version of the proposed levy.

▪ A prioritized list of projects that included continuing a trail along Peace Portal Drive; developing Lincoln Park by building a playground, picnic shelters, play fields and courts; developing shoreline access; building the second phase of the Skateboard Park; improving existing small open spaces, called parklets, on Peace Portal Drive that offer water views.

Blaine can’t turn to its budget for such projects, according to David Wilbrecht, Blaine city manager.

“The city really doesn’t have spare general fund that they can use to do the work. It will have to come through a special levy,” he said.

The City Council on Monday also asked the Park and Cemetery Board to provide more details about the proposed projects and to develop estimates of how much the projects would cost.

Although the council hasn’t yet decided to put the measure on a ballot, they likely will in 2016.

Wilbrecht said the council seemed to like the projects that went before them, and would decide against putting the levy before voters only if enough people opposed the idea during a public hearing before the council.

Up next for the City Council: Deciding when to put a ballot measure before voters and what that levy will look like, including whether it will be at the 32-cent rate.

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

More on parks levy

Additional information about the tax measure that could go before Blaine voters in 2016 is online at ci.blaine.wa.us. Type “parks and open spaces levy” into the search window.

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