The zoo/trek tax that would be funneled to Key Pen parks, estimated at $100,000 annually, would bring in a healthy amount of money to allow a local park district function comfortably. It’s five times more than the current estimated income from user fees, and about double what last year’s failed levy would have brought per year. However, no budget or any suggested direction was being discussed for using that money, as the organizing committee and the current commissioners note that it would be up to the newly elected board to make decisions.
To see how far the tax can be stretched, the Key Peninsula News created a mock budget to reflect a couple of scenarios. The scenarios are based on the needs the current board identified when it went to the public for money last September, and estimates of the additional costs that would be generated by an MPD. Two things become apparent: The theoretical $100,000 could be gone very quickly, and while it would capture money already paid by Key Peninsula residents through taxes but used for parks elsewhere, it would also likely cost voters more money, just like a KPPRD levy would have.
“Whenever you are a separate political entity, the county can’t do things for free anymore,” said Byron Olson, director of management and budget for the city of Tacoma’s MPD. “You need to buy insurance, hire an attorney, hire staff, pay for audits, and run elections. So there’s a whole bunch of things that are going to cost money.”
There are a variety of variables in any anticipated scenario—based on whether the new commissioners will vote themselves a salary, whether they will accept to take over existing county-owned KP parks (Purdy Spit and the Herron Point boat launch), and whether they will propose to
hire additional staff such as a professional park manager that had been widely advocated last year by some KPPRD commissioners. And the Purdy Spit Park, though it doesn’t cost much to maintain currently, could incur big expenses down the road should the Old Wauna post office building be restored or even demolished.
Although the MPD doesn’t have to take over county-owned parks on the Peninsula, the county’s expectation is that it will— because the money that the county would receive would now be channeled out of its own income and into the KP district. “The money would normally go to Pierce County for unincorporated areas,” said Councilman Terry Lee. “The county is fine with that because they expect those districts will take over county-owned parks in their areas.” Jan Wolcott, director of Pierce County Parks and Recreation, said while the KPMPD would not have to accept the
properties, “it seems the justification to become a park district is for local governance perhaps the local district could do a better job than the county is doing” with those parks, especially “if they are serious about becoming a metro park district.”
With basic costs of running the current district at about $70,000 and another $60,000 worth of maintenance and improvements the current parks could use (based on figures given to voters during last levy campaign, see graphic), and with the potential added costs of being essentially an incorporated district—it becomes clear why some residents are concerned whether the money would be fairly spent.
The MPD could attract grants and issue bonds—but some grants, such as the Real Estate Excess Tax (REET) that could give KP up to $150,000 have to be matched—which means if the MPD decides to apply for a $60,000 REET grant, $30,000 would need to be matched, likely from the $100,000 coming in, leaving that much less to spend on operations because the REET grant would be park-specific. Same with the bond, unless the board wants to go to voters for approval (which would increase taxes), they could bond against income— but that means the bond must be paid back out of that same income, reducing the $100,000 once again.
That suggests that the newly elected board would likely exercise its authority to raise taxes in order to make the needed improvements. If the board authorized the full 25-cents currently available to them, the district would bring in $299,585 (based on 2004 data) in additional revenue. That would be good news for the parks and the citizens who use them. However, the bad news is that under the terms of this hypothetical example, a family with a house valued at $200,000 would see their property taxes increase by $50 per year. A figure that is more than twice the 10 cents per 1,000, or $20 per year (on a $200,000 home) that voters rejected last fall.
Olson said this about oversight: “It’s just the same as the county, city, or a fire district. The state auditor comes in and audits the entity. So if things were really out of hand, the state would eventually come in, but if voters don’t like what’s going on then it’s up to them to bring new people in.”
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