Maple Valley City Council considers park funding options

No matter which way you slice it, more fields in Maple Valley are going to mean higher taxes for residents.

No matter which way you slice it, more fields in Maple Valley are going to mean higher taxes for residents.

This spring Maple Valley City Council members are considering what funding options are available to meet the city’s needs for parks and fields.

The conversation began in ernest when the parks commission presented to the council at the March 4 city council meeting. The commission offered up a variety of funding possibilities including creating a metropolitan park district and a voted capital bond. The commission also recommended several projects it felt that the city should focus on or contribute to including Summit Park and Ballfields, Ravensdale Park and improvements to Lake Wilderness Park.

Council members heard an additional report on the possibilities of a metropolitan park district at the City Council meeting April 8 from the city’s Director of Finance Shawn Hunstock and Director of Parks and Recreation Greg Brown.

“There isn’t a lot that the city could do that wouldn’t need to be voter approved,” Hunstock said.

A metropolitan park district is a junior taxing district, similar to fire or hospital districts.

One bonus of an MPD is the flexibility and range of options for creating a district. A MPD can be created for a specific project or as a more general fund.

An advantage of a MPD is that it can cover not only the initial construction costs but also maintenance and administrative fees.

“A voted bond levy is strictly for capital projects,” Hunstock said. “It doesn’t give you any money for operational and maintenance…an MPD could take care of all of that.”

The funding structure, however, for a MPD can be complicated. As a junior taxing district it is subject to the $5.90 aggregate limit and how much could actually be levied would depend on the hierarchy of other junior taxing districts and how much they levy. Also, rates for those living within the city limits would differ from those living outside the city, in unincorporated King County, because of differing county and city rates.

“We’ve never pursued an MPD as an option for funding our parks and ballfields,” said Deputy Mayor Victoria Jonas. “I have a lot more questions that need to be answered.”

Another possible source of funding would be a real estate excise tax, a tax on the sale of property though Hunstock said it’s not ideal.

“You really can’t count on (a real estate excise tax) to increase every year,” Hunstock said. “I wouldn’t recommend to council to count on that increase to be there…the problem then is if the money doesn’t appear you’re cutting other services to pay for the debt.”

The city has collected a park impact fee, which is charged when initial home construction is permitted, that makes up the city’s Park Development Fund since 2010, Brown said. As of the end of 2012 the fund was at $1.8 million.

“The Park Development Fund is to be used as the city’s match,” Brown said. “It’s a starter.”

Brown said bonds and private contributions, which would likely come from the user groups, could fund some portions of projects.

The top projects in the 2013 budget the council would consider if there was funding would be Summit Park and Lake Wilderness, both of which have approved master plans. Another project which has been talked about for years, Brown said, is the replacement of the community center facility.

“When you have competing needs, choices have to be made,” Brown said in relation to the projects the city would consider and other needs that residents have to weigh like last week’s fire district levies and a potential school bond.

Council members will participate in a council retreat in May, at which point city staff plan to continue the discussion of park funding.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface,” said Councilwoman Linda Johnson. “It’s a matter of prioritizing the needs and having the citizens weigh in.”

The decision to run a bond or levy will be up to council members, who will also decide when to place such a measure on the ballot.

“It (running a bond or levy) is an eight to 12 month process,” Brown said. “It’s logical, if council wants to proceed, then 2014.”