$1 million a year for open space?

Islanders have said loud and clear they want more parks and open space.

Now the Bainbridge parks district wants to see if islanders are willing foot the bill.

Spurred by recent surveys that identify the preservation of open space and creation of new parks as top priorities for residents, the park officials have proposed a November ballot measure that would boost property taxes to generate about $1 million a year for the acquisition, development and maintenance of new properties.

“The one consistent thing in the surveys is the high public priority on protecting land and water,” said Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District commissioner Dave Shorett. “But no other government agency is stepping up to respond.”

The proposed park levy lid lift would add about $0.16 to every $1,000 of assessed property value. With the median Bainbridge home’s value at about $530,000, the typical homeowner would see a $85 increase on their property taxes next year.

A draft resolution specifies that no less than 75 percent of the increased revenues would go toward the purchase of land. The remaining 25 percent would be used for park development and maintenance. Park officials have also discussed adding the land development component to the 75 percent.

“The impetus from the community is for acquisition,” said commission chair Ken DeWitt. “They want the vast majority to go toward buying land and developing trails.”

The proposed levy increase comes at a time when other public agencies, such as Kitsap Regional Library, have dropped plans to ask voters for additional funding.

But the island’s passion for outdoor recreation and environmental preservation will likely see the levy effort through, park officials said. Recently released results from a Trust for Public Lands survey showed that about 60 percent of islanders would be willing to pay higher property taxes to support the protection of natural areas and open space.

Other surveys conducted by the park district and city also showed strong support for preserving undeveloped land and the creation of new parks.

“I urge you to proceed with all deliberate haste,” said land preservationist Dwight Sutton during a park board meeting on Thursday. “Land is not getting any cheaper. The longer we delay, the less bang well get for our buck.”

Sutton, a former Bainbridge mayor, spearheaded the city’s 2001 open space bond. Earning 70 percent approval, the bond put $8 million toward the purchase of several properties around the island.

Despite the bond’s success, Sutton said more must be done to preserve natural areas as the islands population grows.

“We’re not overly endowed with parks, and we’re going to need more and more,” he said.

The city has considered another open space bond in recent years, but little action has been taken.

Some park officials believe the park district is better suited to head up a new open space preservation effort. As proof, commissioner Lee Cross points to another TPL survey result showing 80 percent of islanders have a positive opinion of the park district. The city, on the other hand, has been the target of harsh criticism on budget and other spending issues.

Park officials are opting for a levy because a bond has more limitations and would not allow spending for park development and maintenance, DeWitt said.

“The city’s bond was only for acquisition and the result is that we have open space that the public cant enjoy,” said Cross, noting that some properties the city purchased years ago still have no trails, parking areas or basic amenities, such as garbage cans or signage.

Chuck Field, a former Bainbridge park district director, warned that the levy increase might be a tough sell if too much money is funneled away from purchasing land.

“I don’t think one dime should go to operations,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to pass unless you get really specific that this is going to acquisition and development.”

The park district will hold a special meeting Thursday at Strawberry Hill Park to discuss and possibly adopt a levy lid lift resolution. For more information, call (206) 842-2306.

2 thoughts on “$1 million a year for open space?

  1. “Acquisition, development and maintenance”? That’s not “$1 million dollars per year for Open Space”. Sounds an awful lot like the bait and switch tax payers got on the school bond now being used for a million dollar artificial turf installation. 100% for acquisition or forget it.

    Of course, those of us just hit with double digit property assessment increases during a dead real estate market might not be to keen on any bonds right now…

  2. The BI Parks department needs to prove they a) know what they have b) know how to take care of what they have c) have a plan for developing part of their extensive inventory before they demand for more.

    How many employees does Parks Department have? How many employees? How many properties? How many acres?

    What gives with a new senior center when the one we have is perfectly serviceable?

    Also the surveys done by BIPD were a joke aimed to shape the environment for more money and open space.

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