Frequently Asked Questions on Olympia’s new Metropolitan Parks District
In the November 2016 election, the voters of Olympia passed a measure (Proposition 1) to create a Metropolitan Park District for Olympia by more than 60 percent of the vote. The LBA Woods Park Coalition and many other park-advocates groups worked closely with the City Finance Committee, Parks Department, and City staff to make sure this MPD works for all of Olympia.The MPD is not a funding mechanism for buying the LBA Woods, but a source of steady revenue for all Olympia’s parks.
Thank you all for your “YES” vote on the MPD on November 3.
What is an MPD?
MPD stands for Metropolitan Parks District. It is not a place but it does include territory with boundaries and a governing body. An MPD is best described as a mechanism that allows taxes to be collected by a city for its parks.
I’ve never heard of an MPD. Is this a new thing?
Since 1907, Washington state law authorized cities to create Metropolitan Parks Districts to manage, control, improve, and acquire parks, parkways, boulevards, and recreational facilities when existing city funding does not adequately provide for these needs. There are currently 17 MPDs in cities all across Washington. The list of MPDs includes Bellingham, North Bend, Seattle, Tacoma, Pullman, and Yakima, Bainbridge Island, and Shelton. Each MPD is tailored to the needs of each city and can cover something as small as a six-lane municipal swimming pool or as large as an entire Seattle-sized city.
How much tax do I have to pay for the MPD?
The ceiling is 75 cents per $1000 of assessed property value. But for now, the City’s finance committee is considering a rate of 54 cents per $1000. For the owner of a $200,000 home, the 54-cent rate means you’ll pay less than $9/month for the MPD. That’s just 32 cents a day—sofa change!
Just 32 cents a day for parks?
You’re right. It’s not much, but it adds up to $3 million a year in revenue for Olympia’s present and future parks.
So “Metropolitan Parks District” is just a fancy way to say “property tax,” right?
No. It’s more complicated. The MPD establishes the territory (a geographical District) in which the parks or future parks exist and where the property owners are taxed. For the Olympia MPD, the territory of the District includes everything within the city limits. Homes currently inside the Urban Growth area will pay the MPD tax after annexation into the City of Olympia. The members of the City Council double as the MPD Board (the governing body) which will operate with the oversight of a citizen advisory committee to ensure that the spending of funds is consistent with their intended purpose.
Doesn’t the City of Olympia rely too much on property tax to fund things?
No. In terms of overall rate per $1000, Olympia ranks #113 in Washington.
When does the MPD tax hit my wallet?
The tax will appear on your property tax bill in April 2017. The City has already used the existence of MPD to help them leverage important state grants and matching grants for parks.
What do I get for my money?
You get well-maintained parks and new parks for the future. You get safer, better, cleaner parks. You get green space, open space, wetlands, wildlife habitat. You get athletic fields, a dog park, hiking trails, and maybe a splash pad like the one in Heritage Park downtown. You get a great park system and an even better city.
Why do we need more money for parks maintenance?
As we emerge from the great recession that began in 2008, we fell behind in basic upkeep of our parks. Right now, the Parks Department is $4 million behind in maintenance. The Olympia Parks staff worked as hard as they could on limited resources and managed to keep all of our parks open. Now with the MPD, we can begin to address the much-needed maintenance to keep our parks safe and beautiful.
Don’t I already pay a tax for city parks?
Yes, but not enough. In 2004, voters in Olympia passed a 2% tax for parks on utilities (natural gas, electricity, phone), which should have generated $2.25 million a year for parks, for acquisition of new parkland, but also for maintenance and operation costs of the newly acquired lands. Over the years, this revenue source has decreased due to conservation efforts, the mild winters we have experienced, and reduced use of landlines.
The modest utility tax was not meant to cover maintenance for the entire park system—so we can’t expect it to do that. What the voters had in mind in 2004 was 500 more acres of parkland, but because of the recession that hit in 2008, only 63 acres could be acquired. The MPD tax provides a stable, consistent source of funding maintenance and development or our entire park system. Olympians don’t want a lousy, unsafe, overcrowded park system.
How does the MPD measure ensure that funds will be spent as the voters intended?
A citizen advisory committee will serve the public to ensure that funds are spent as voters intended. The committee is directed in the Ordinance to: “provide an annual report to the City and District regarding the City’s compliance with the funding levels.”
What about holding the City accountable for diverting funds from the 2004 voted utility tax towards other purposes?
The MPD ordinance, drafted by a broad coalition of citizen park advocates, is about accountability and transparency. Specifically, it fully restores the use of both the 2% utility tax voted in 2004 and the ½% non-voted utility Tax adopted in 1997 to their intended purpose, and it locks in annual general fund spending for parks at 11%. Furthermore, it provides accountability, by impanelling a Citizens Advisory Board whose sole job is to ascertain that funds are spent as intended by the voters.
Why do we need an MPD now?
We do this now because our need is urgent. If we want to:
- Ensure our city’s entire park system will function smoothly and thrive,
- Create a legacy for our children, and their children by acquiring land to meet their needs for open space and trails, athletic fields, and other recreational opportunities,
- Forge a city that is a model of balance between built and green—a place where people want to live, and businesses want to locate,
- Maintain our urban wildlife, and honor our location on the Deschutes River and the southern tip of Puget Sound
The time is now. This is why we take Proposition 1 so seriously.
A broad coalition of citizens and citizen groups including the LBA Woods Park Coalition, Friends of the Waterfront, Olympia Coalition for Ecosystem Preservation, Olympia Capitol Park Foundation. A survey of 800 households conducted by Elway Research in February 2015 showed that 71% of survey respondents supported a tax increase for park acquisition and development. The #1 reason people wanted to pay more tax for buying more land for parks was to “preserve for future.”
What park projects will the MPD pay for first?
The Olympia Parks Plan will guide the MPD on top priority projects. The current 2010 Parks Plan is being updated right now and will be completed in 2016. The research for the 2016 plan included extensive public input. Public meetings and online surveys showed broad community support for conserving LBA Woods, removing the Capitol Center building on Capitol Lake, preserving Percival Landing, and completing the Woodland and West Bay trails. We also need more athletic fields and other amenities for youth and adult recreation, improvements to our trail system, and protection of wildlife habitat.