Local Election

Bellingham voters to decide whether to tax themselves again for green spaces

Five facts about the Greenways IV levy

Five facts about the Greenways IV levy that will raise $32 million over seven years for Bellingham parks.
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Five facts about the Greenways IV levy that will raise $32 million over seven years for Bellingham parks.

For the fourth time, and possibly the last, Bellingham voters will decide whether to tax themselves to pay for parks, trails and other green spaces for people and wildlife.

Called Greenways IV, the property tax levy is part of the Nov. 8 general election.

If approved, the levy would raise $32 million over seven years. It needs a simple majority of yes votes to pass.

A Greenways levy has gone before Bellingham voters since 1990 – passing in 1990, 1997 and again in 2006.

There is no organized opposition to the measure.

Here is what you need to know about Greenways IV.

Why is Greenways going before voters again?

Because the current version, Greenways III, ends in December.

Voters approved it in 2006 – nearly 58 percent of them voting yes.

Why should voters pass this Greenways levy?

“Greenways allows us to continue making a better and better city. It assures that we invest in creating beloved public places that shape our identity as a community,” said Seth Fleetwood, chairman of the Greenways IV Levy Campaign Committee.

“Greenways really is our generation’s lasting gift to the future,” Fleetwood said. “It is our legacy.”

What would Greenways IV cost me?

Up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The owner of a $300,000 Bellingham house would pay up to $150 annually for Greenways IV.

The levy would bring in $4.5 million in its first year.

How is this Greenways proposal different from earlier versions?

It starts at a lower rate. The previous levies were for up to 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Its lifespan is shorter than the previous two levies, which ran for 10 years.

And for the first time, more money will go to developing land than buying it.

How would the money be spent?

It would be distributed in the following ways:

▪ 42 percent 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 levy, which set aside 60 percent for acquisition and 31 percent for development.

The change recognizes the need 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 the city’s budget hole.

A bigger chunk going to development also should make residents in north Bellingham happy. Two parcels of land have been bought off Cordata Parkway for parks in an underserved area, but neither has been developed. This shift will help rectify that.

Fleetwood described Greenways IV as a responsible proposal that responded to the city’s needs.

What would it be spent on?

In the past 25 years, Greenways money has allowed the city to buy and develop some of the most loved and historic spaces in Bellingham, such as Taylor Dock and Woodstock Farm; replace well-used amenities, such as the artificial turf at Civic Stadium; and expand green spaces to the north, such as off Cordata Parkway, where the city was growing.

A total of 961 acres has been acquired since that first levy.

Upcoming proposed projects would be sited throughout Bellingham, according to Fleetwood, and come from the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan.

They include public trails and parks for the waterfront, such as developing what is being called Cornwall Beach Park. Other projects include trails for King and Queen mountains, developing parking and access for Galbraith Mountain, and improvements at Little Squalicum Park that could include turning a pier there into a promenade.

Why does Greenways IV have a shorter lifespan?

Seven years is the time when the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District is expected to sunset.

Chuckanut is a metropolitan park district created in 2013 by voters in roughly southwest Bellingham. They decided to tax themselves for 10 years to generate about $3.2 million to help pay for the city’s purchase of Chuckanut Ridge to save the wooded area from being turned into housing.

That $3.2 million was a loan from the Greenways endowment fund, which helped pay the $8.2 million price tag for Bellingham’s 2011 purchase of the 82-acre Chuckanut Ridge, also known as the Hundred Acre Wood.

Proposing a Greenways IV that expires in seven years seems to open the way for a future City Council to take up the idea of a metropolitan parks district, which is a taxing district for parks that, unlike Greenways, may not expire.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Learn more

▪ greenwayslevy.com for information from the Greenways IV Levy Campaign.

▪ cob.org/gov/dept/parks/greenway to read about Bellingham’s Greenway Program, what has been accomplished since voters approved the first Greenways levy in 1990, and a plan for future projects.

▪ cob.org/gov/public/bc/greenway for information about the Greenway Advisory Committee, which is made up of volunteers who act on behalf of levy voters and levy objectives.

Ballots to be mailed

Ballots for the Nov. 8 general election will be mailed Wednesday, Oct. 19, to voters in Whatcom County.

Voters who haven’t received their ballot by Oct. 28 should call the Election Division of the County Auditor’s Office at 360-778-5102 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Nov. 8 is the deadline for returning ballots, which must be postmarked by that date or deposited in an official ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that day.

Find a list of drop box locations at whatcomcounty.us/auditor by clicking on “Voters” in “Elections” or check the voters’ pamphlet enclosed with the ballot.