What follows are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we've been asked about Proposition 1.
- How did the City determine which parks and streets maintenance projects would be funded by the proposed levy?
A citizen’s committee comprised of both residents and business owners met with parks staff weekly for about two months. After learning about the condition of many of Kent’s older park features, the committee developed a set of criteria to help select projects, and worked hard to come to a consensus on their recommendation to the City Council.
The streets process involved the Transportation Advisory Committee which initially explored funding options for maintenance projects along with new street improvements. The Committee decided to focus on street maintenance dollars to fix existing streets; then developed a project list based on repairing failed pavement.
Because both the Parks Citizen's Committee and the Transportation Advisory Committee recommended a levy lid lift, both lists of projects had to be trimmed back in order to stay within the .37 cent limit established by the City Council.
- How much will the $.37 per $1,000 cost on my tax bill?
To determine your cost, divide your assessed valuation by $1,000 and then multiply the number of $1,000’s by $.37. For example, a $250,000 assessed valuation on a home will be $250,000 divided by $1,000 equals 250, times .37 equals $92.50 annually.
- Once the levy expires in six years, how will parks and street maintenance be funded?
Even if the levy passes, the dollars raised will not be enough to cover all of the maintenance issues in our parks or on our streets. Depending on conditions, the City Council will evaluate how to best fund maintenance needs at that time.
- The City used street repair funds on other non-essentials and now wants to raise property taxes. Why?
Many people may remember the $30 car tab initiative and other similar measures that were approved in the last decade. Much of the City’s funds for street overlays came from these fees or from the City’s former Street Utility. Since 1999, the City has lost over $55 million previously dedicated to street repairs.
- If the economy improves, and revenue sources increase before the levy expires, will property owners still be required to pay the additional $.37 per $1,000 of assessed value?
In passing its budget, the City Council determines how much of the allowable levy to assess. If the economy rebounds and other revenues increase substantially, the council may be able to assess less than the full amount allowed under the levy.
- When voters approved the Regional Fire Authority (RFA), didn’t the City get to keep the money that was originally used to pay for the Kent Fire Department? What happened to all that money?
By approving the RFA, voters approved two major revenue changes that appear on property tax bills, 1) a transfer of $1 per thousand of assessed valuation from the City to the RFA and 2) the collection of a new revenue charge called the Fire Benefit Charge.
The property tax revenues our city receives have always been deposited into the General Fund and used to pay for general government services including public safety, parks, streets and other services. The remaining costs are covered using sales and utility tax revenues, building revenues and permit fees, which also, have always been deposited into the General Fund.
Kent’s Fire Department was never funded solely by property taxes. Before the RFA was formed, only $8.9 million dollars of property tax money was used to pay for the fire department. The remaining $15.2 million dollars in their budget came from other revenue sources.
In 2010, the city received $2.36 per $1,000 in assessed valuation to pay for all of the general government services referenced previously. When the RFA was formed, the city gave up $1.00 of the $2.36 previously received, leaving $1.36 per $1,000 assessed valuation to pay for those previously referenced services. That $1.00 dollar equated to a reduction of $11.7 million in property taxes that used to go into the city’s General Fund, which is now collected by the RFA. That is well over the $8.9 million in property taxes that partially funded the fire department in 2010.
- How do Kent’s property taxes compare to those of other Puget Sound cities?
Of the largest five cities in King County, Kent’s property tax rate ranks third, with Seattle and Renton having higher rates, and Bellevue and Federal Way having lower rates. If the levy passes, the increase will not affect this ranking.
That said, not all of your property tax goes to the city in which you live. For example, the owner of a Kent home assessed at $309,000 paid $4649.57 in property taxes this year. Of that amount, $484.56, or about 10 percent, went to the city.
- ShoWare Center loses money every year. Why doesn’t the City sell it, freeing up revenue to pay for parks and street maintenance?
ShoWare Center continues to gain momentum as a regional attraction having drawn over 1.2 million visitors and 500 events to date. This brings new dollars and economic opportunities to many Kent businesses and tax dollars back to the City that defray operating costs. Similar to other publicly-owned venues such as Key Arena, Comcast Arena at Everett, Century Link Field and Safeco Field, the market for selling facilities to private enterprise is limited because these originated as public gathering facilities that cannot be used for other purposes.
- The City has multiple unused properties. Why doesn’t the City sell these properties to help solve the City’s maintenance problem?
The vast majority of City held property is for parks, storm drainage and city facilities. The City has periodically sold vacant property that is marketable and will continue to do so when opportunities arise. The funds received from these potential sales would pay back the outside agency that funded the original purchase or pay back the debt used to purchase the property.
- I thought we had parks maintenance staff. Aren’t they supposed to maintain the parks? Kent’s parks maintenance staff work very hard to provide routine maintenance and construction of small projects. The projects to be funded, should the levy pass, are too large to be completed in-house. To bring it down to residential scale, it’s comparable to the difference between shampooing the carpet and replacing the roof.
- Why do we need to build more parks? We’re in a recession.
We agree that this is not a time for expansion of the park system. And that’s not what this levy will fund. This levy will provide money to take care of what we already have and address failing features in our parks.
- There’s a small park in my neighborhood, and it’s not on your project list. Why did you focus on the big parks and leave out neighborhood parks?
The project list includes $300,000 a year to address some of the problems at the smaller parks throughout the city. Because the funding is limited, the City will have a competitive process where individual neighborhoods can apply for grants to make improvements that residents themselves request.
- What will happen if Proposition 1 doesn’t pass?
If Proposition 1 doesn’t pass, it won’t likely lead to the closure of parks, but there will be noticeable repercussions. The project list includes features in some of our most heavily used parks which are at, or very near the end of their useful lives. At a certain point they will become unsafe for the public to use, and we’ll need to remove or prevent access to them.
In the case of the waterfront features, if we don’t have the funds to replace them when they are removed, we will have a very difficult time replacing them because of permitting challenges. In other cases, such as at Wilson Playfields, the result of closing the fields will be very similar to closing the park, as the only usable recreation amenity left at that facility will be the playground.
- How much money does it cost to maintain Kent’s streets on an annual basis?
To keep Kent’s streets at today’s conditions, it would cost about $10-12 million per year. We currently spend about $3 million per year to maintain existing road striping, street signs, traffic signals, sidewalks, guardrails, pothole repair, and limited pavement repairs. This same money is also used for snow plowing, sanding and debris removal after storms.
- What specific upgrades will be made to the roads?
We will fix weak spots in the roads and overlay with new asphalt. The levy is for pavement maintenance only; it would not pay for street upgrades. Existing sidewalks and ramps will be repaired or replaced as necessary to conform to federal and state requirements for disabled person’s access. Existing streetlights that require maintenance will be repaired.
- If this levy passes, will proposed Local Improvement District funding still be needed for other street projects?
Yes, improvements for street widening or new roads will likely require Local Improvement Districts. The levy proposal is only for overlay of existing paved areas.
- What about maintenance of streets that aren’t covered by this levy; how will they be maintained?
We will continue to fill potholes and explore other funding sources to overlay those streets.
- What will happen if Proposition 1 doesn’t pass?
We will continue to fill potholes and repair roads as much as possible; however, the overall condition of the streets will continue to degrade.