Vancouver council OKs sending parks levy to voters

It would cost a homeowner $70 a year

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver voters, warm up your ballpoint pens: You'll be weighing in on a property tax levy to support parks and recreation this November.

The city council passed a resolution Monday night confirming its plans for a 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax levy to create a metropolitan parks district. The levy would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $70 a year.

The Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department has seen its staff cut in half and a drastic reduction in classes and programs as the city council cribbed money from parks to prop up public safety over the last decade.

The metropolitan parks district is expected to raise about $4.5 million annually and help create a dedicated revenue stream for the department. However, Vancouver's general fund would still need to chip in about $4.25 million a year to pay for debt service, indirect costs and depreciation and deferred maintenance.

The levy would create additional wiggle room in the general fund, however, that city council members could commit to other services, such as police and fire, streets or public works.

The seven-member city council would serve as the parks district's board.

Although the council's more conservative members voiced concerns, the council voted 5-2 Monday to put the matter before voters. Councilors Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart voted no.

A 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value levy would allow Vancouver to repair community center floors, locker rooms and HVAC systems; replace worn fitness equipment and improve customer lobby areas; and improve playgrounds and sport courts.

The levy also would expand health and wellness programs for older adults; preserve the Access to Recreation program; restore camps and services for the disabled; expand Teen Center days and hours; and bring back three after-school programs, among other service improvements.