Aug. 17, 2009
Effort to bridge budget shortfall means King County no longer funding urban local parks
King County Executive Kurt Triplett today announced he is proposing zeroing-out funding for parks from the General Fund in 2010 by mothballing 39 parks in urban unincorporated areas. The move will save $4.6 million and is one more way to cover a $56.4 million shortfall in projected tax revenues needed to maintain 2009 service levels.
All the parks proposed for mothballing are in potential annexation areas of cities and primarily used by local residents but maintained with countywide general fund tax dollars.
"The deficit is too big and the pace of annexations by the cities too slow for King County to continue subsidizing these local parks," Triplett said. "We will continue to work with the cities to take over responsibility for these parks that add so much to the quality of life of their communities, but King County cannot afford to continue to operate these parks while cutting criminal justice and public health services."
The state's Growth Management Act designates cities as the appropriate government entity to provide local services such as neighborhood parks in urban areas. King County estimates it spends $21 million annually subsidizing urban-level services in proposed annexation areas.
King County will continue to operate and maintain 140 regional parks and facilities such as Marymoor and the Weyerhaeuser-Aquatic Center, rural parks and 175 miles of regional trails that are supported by a countywide levy. The six-year levy approved by voters in 2007 cannot be used for the local parks in urban areas that Triplett is slating to mothball.
The 39 parks proposed for mothballing in the potential annexation areas total approximately 610 acres and have a total assessed value of $57 million.
"Taxpayers have paid for these parks, and I am open to any proposal from the cities or others to transfer ownership for free," said Triplett. "As part of the effort to encourage annexations, the state has given these cities tax options the county does not have."
Other than a small amount of money to finish mothballing parks this winter, the Executive's proposal means the end of parks funding from the county's General Fund. The amount of the General Fund spent on parks dropped from more than $20 million annually to $3 million in 2002. Since then voters have twice approved a property tax to pay for regional parks and trails and the county has expanded use of partnerships to fund the majority of parks' $27.9 million budget.
The 39 parks proposed for mothballing will remain open for use but will not be maintained. In December crews will fence playground equipment, lock and secure restrooms, post signs and lock gates in the 39 parks in potential annexation areas of Burien, Kent, Renton, Kirkland, Issaquah, Seattle, Federal Way, Redmond and SeaTac.
Six of the parks are in North Highline where residents are voting in the August primary on a proposal by Burien to annex the area. Residents living in potential annexation areas for Kent, Renton and Kirkland vote in November whether to approve annexations affecting another 14 parks. Even if voters approve the annexations this year, each of the cities has proposed delays as long as a 1.5 years before assuming responsibility for the parks in their area.
The county is in annexation discussions with cities where another 14 parks are located.
The national economic crisis, combined with the on-going structural deficit, has created a $56.4 million shortfall in the General Fund, which does not allow King County to maintain current levels of service. Triplett announced nearly $17 million in countywide savings to overhead, administration and general county services last week. He said his priority is to shield public health and criminal justice services as much as possible but that all departments will see budget cuts in 2010.