The city’s voters will decide in November whether to keep taxing themselves to raise $32 million over seven years to pay for parks, trails and other green spaces.
The measure, called Greenways IV, will go before voters Nov. 8 after the Bellingham City Council decided Monday, June 6, to put it on the ballot.
It will be the fourth time Greenways, which is a property tax levy, has gone before voters since 1990. Voters have approved each previous levy request.
The current version, Greenways III, ends in December.
Greenways IV, which needs a simple majority of yes votes to pass, would cost up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for seven years.
The owner of a $300,000 house would pay up to $150 annually.
It differs from previous Greenways taxes in that the proposed levy starts at a lower rate and its life span is shorter —seven compared to 10 years for the previous two levies.
Previous Greenways started at up to 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
And for the first time, more money will go to developing land than buying it.
“This is a change from our traditional Greenways,” council member Terry Bornemann said.
Here’s how the money would be spent.
▪ 42 percent, which is the biggest chunk, for park development, trail building and restoration.
▪ 33 percent to buy land for parks, trails and connections between the two.
▪ 25 percent for maintenance and operations for Greenways and other city-owned park land.
Compare that to the current Greenways, which set aside 60 percent for acquisition and 31 percent for development.
The proposed change recognizes the need to find money to develop and care for the Greenways the city already has, which has been a challenge.
Adding other city-owned park land to maintenance and operations also would help officials as they grapple with a budget hole the city is facing. It’s an issue that led to some discussion about creating a metropolitan parks district. As currently envisioned, such a property tax for green spaces wouldn’t expire, unlike Greenways.
In the end, council members decided to go with Greenways. But this version of the levy would last for seven years, which is about when the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District is expected to sunset, and seeming to open the way for a future council to take up the idea of a metropolitan parks district. (Chuckanut is an existing metropolitan park district created in 2013 by voters in roughly southwest Bellingham.)
“We’re grateful that people will have a chance to weigh in on Greenways. I think there’s a feeling that this may be the last Greenways levy and so it makes this one special and important,” Seth Fleetwood, chairman of the Greenways IV Levy Campaign Committee, said Tuesday in an interview.
Greenways IV would be an “opportunity to complete a number of important projects that will shape the future quality of Bellingham,” added Fleetwood, a former city and county council member. “I think this levy helps us create the city we want and need.”