Traditionally, The Columbian has supported local parks and endorsed ballot measures pertaining to parks funding. In 2005, we supported a property tax levy (voters narrowly passed it) that created parks in unincorporated urban areas. On Nov. 6, voters inside Vancouver city limits face a decision about parks.Times have changed for the worse and the city is abdicating its responsibility to make difficult choices. For these two fundamental reasons, we recommend voting "against" the parks measure, Proposition 1. (A pro-con package of opinions is presented on the facing page.)
Proposition 1 seeks a property tax levy of 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value (about $70 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home) to create the Vancouver Metropolitan Park District. This would yield about $4.5 million annually to pay operations expenses. Overall, though, the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department has an annual budget of about $8.5 million, including debt service, indirect costs and depreciation and deferred maintenance.
Generally speaking, the middle of an economic crisis is not the right time to ask for a tax increase. But there are other reasons to reject this measure:
Creating a Metropolitan Parks District would encourage a shell game of sorts. Vancouver would be able to redirect about $3 million currently dedicated for parks, using the money in other departments. The city is telling taxpayers we don't want to figure out how to spend what we have, so we want you to give us more money to make it easier. But the city should do what families and businesses do every day in 2012: Make do with what you've got.
Ultimately, the city and taxpayers must accept the realities of tough decisions during tough times. That means reductions — continually and indefinitely into the future — not only in parks, which already have been cut about in half in recent years, but police, fire and other essential departments.
So this really is about more than just parks. It's about increased funding in other city departments, indirectly perhaps all of them.
Some city councilors have pointed out that, if there is to be a ballot measure for more money, parks should have to fall in line behind public-safety departments. And, if this tax increase unfolds, it could jeopardize the chance of future ballot measures for police or fire. But a more compelling and basic argument is that municipalities must show more willingness to buckle down and balance costs with revenue. It's not overly complicated.
This ballot measure offers nothing new, only to preserve or restore. By contrast, the 2005 levy offered about three dozen new parks (with 20 soccer fields and 17 baseball diamonds), plus 7.5 miles of new trails. Also, the 2005 measure for parks maintenance money was different because it triggered the expenditure of $12 million the county already had in reserve for acquiring and developing parks.
Therefore, voters should avoid comparing these two parks proposals that are separated not only by seven years, but by a devastating economic crisis, plus a wide difference in how public money is used. This year's Proposition 1 for parks is too flawed to pass scrutiny by discerning voters.