Dow Constantine’s proposal to keep county parks from being closed
As reported here several weeks back, King County Executive Kurt Triplett has proposed closing more than three dozen county parks in unincorporated urban areas, like White Center, because of the county budget crisis. King County Council Chair Dow Constantine, who is running for KCE, just announced his proposal to keep those parks from closing:
King County Executive candidate Dow Constantine today issued a four point plan intended to keep parks across King County open as the County moves to close its current budget gap.
Current King County Executive Kurt Triplett has called on the County to begin mothballing parks December 1st of this year in order to help close the budget deficit.
“I do not believe that closing parks is the right approach for dealing with the County’s budget problems, nor is it necessary,” Constantine said. “If we use our existing resources more wisely, we can keep our neighborhood parks open and available for use by the people of King County.”
Constantine’s concern with the Executive’s proposal to shutter parks is two-fold.
“Our 39 local parks provide critical services to the communities in which they reside. Many of these parks are in low-income communities and are important community gathering places that provide recreation and exercise and enhance the quality of life for the communities in which they are located,” Constantine said. “Moreover, the voters of King County passed two parks levies in 2007 in order to save all our parks. While this levy applied only to regional and rural parks, this was not the perception of the voters and I am not interested in closing these parks based on this technicality.”
Constantine’s parks plan outlined the following points:
Prioritizing Parks in the Budget: When the Executive transmits his budget to the Council in late September, Constantine will propose funding these parks through 2010. This would provide the County Parks Department with the appropriate amount of time to execute on the Executive’s current plan – which Constantine believes has merit – to transfer urban parks to cities and other entities. With reduced maintenance and other efficiencies, the cost of keeping the affected parks open should be able to be reduced to about $1 million. In his nine-point budget proposal, Constantine has previously highlighted up to $75 million in cuts and other efficiencies that could be used to find the necessary funding.
Aggressively Pursue Annexations: All but five of the threatened neighborhood parks are in urban unincorporated areas slated for annexation by surrounding jurisdictions. The annexation of part of North Highline by Burien, approved by voters in the August ballot, will ensure that beginning in January six of these 39 parks will remain open. Similarly, the three other annexations on the November ballot, if approved, will protect 12 more parks. The willingness of cities like Burien to take over their annexed parks earlier then initially planned is a positive step, and Constantine is confident that the County can keep expenses low and transfer these assets without disadvantaging the communities that hold them dear.
Partner with Community Groups: Constantine will initiate and expand discussions with local community groups and other interested organizations to support threatened parks. As an early model for such partnerships, Constantine cited his work with White Water Aquatics to facilitate their takeover of the Evergreen Pool in White Center early next year. While that effort has not been perfect – the pool will have to be shut down for a few months until the transfer occurs – partnership and/or sponsorship efforts with respect to parks could help ease the cost of keeping these parks open.
If Necessary, Modify the Existing Parks Levy: The second of the two regional parks levies passed in 2007 includes significant funds for new open space acquisitions. Constantine is a long-time supporter of parks, open space and trails acquisition. However, in a time of recession it would make sense to use a portion of those funds to keep our existing parks open and maintained. If the pace of annexations is slowed and the need arises for King County to continue funding these parks beyond 2010, Constantine will propose going back to the ballot to modify the existing levy to allow existing levy funds to be used to keep threatened neighborhood parks open. Such a modification would require no new taxes but would simply allow more flexibility with existing resources to ensure no parks are closed, and would still leave millions of dollars in funding to continue expanding the County’s regional trail system and make other acquisitions.
“By transferring the majority of these parks to other entities in 2010, my plan will also allow the County to use money already set aside to fund these parks in 2011 right now. This money will be critical in closing our 2010 budget gap and still allow us to keep our local parks open in the meantime,” Constantine said. “Given the County’s shrinking revenues, it is an economic reality that the County will have to stop funding local parks in the long-term. However, this process must be done in a responsible manner that allows adequate time for other jurisdictions or interested parties to step up to keep these parks open and available for use. It is the responsibility of your elected officials to find creative solutions that protect our citizens’ quality of life, and that is what I intend to do as Executive.”
The 39 parks that at risk of being closed are:
Boulevard Lane Park
Bridle Crest Trail
Bryn Mawr Park
East Norway Hill
Edith Moultan Park
Evergreen Athletic Fields
Five Mile Lake Park
Green Tree Park
Hamm Creek Natural Area
Hazel Valley Park
Juanita Heights Park
Lake Geneva Park
May Creek Park
North Green River Park
North Meridian Park
North Shorewood Park
Park Orchard Park
Puget Sound Park
Salmon Creek Park
Sierra Heights/Honey Dew
Site 1 Duwamish
South County Ballfields
White Center Heights
White Center Pond Natural Area
By the way, something we didn’t realize till a conversation this morning with State Senator Joe McDermott, who’s campaigning for Constantine — the new county executive will be sworn in after the election results are certified in late November, rather than the more standard January swearing-in, since the current KCE is appointed rather than elected.
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