The thousand acre dilemma: Part 1.6 – How the temporary Greenways Levy became a permanent tax
Here’s some background:
In 1990, the city adopted its original Greenways Levy, a $7 million tax on existing property owners to expand the city’s park system to accommodate growth.
In 1997, the city adopted the Beyond Greenways Levy, a $20 million tax on existing property owners to expand the city’s park system to accommodate growth.
In March 2006, the city adopted the Greenways III Levy, a $44 million tax on existing property owners to expand the city’s park system to accommodate growth.
Do you see where this is headed?
Each of these Greenways ordinances contains a comparable Whereas clause that states, “…it is necessary that the City institute a levy and use the proceeds of a temporary increase of the regular tax rate” to fund an expansion of the city’s park system.
Let’s see, over the last 18 years, the city has adopted three temporary property tax increases totaling $71 million, the last of which is set to expire in 2016. Not!!
In fact, the 2008 Bellingham Park Plan that Council will be asked to adopt requires taxpayers to approve a fourth property tax increase beginning in 2017. If the Greenways IV tax levy is not implemented, the plan will be short $29 million. But that’s not all. The plan entirely ignores the impacts of inflation. If the costs of acquiring land and park facilities increase by just 1% more per year than tax revenues (a virtual certainty), the budget shortfall grows to $41 million.
So much for a temporary property tax increase!
How did we get ourselves in this mess?
The short answer: The city has utterly failed to adequately plan for the long-term financial implications of growth. Several statements in the 2006 Greenways III Levy ordinance shed some light:
“WHEREAS, Bellingham continues to grow at a rapid rate…”
“The general fund of the City of Bellingham does not have sufficient resources to provide for the acquisition of additional greenways, open space, parks, and trails…”
“The City Council finds and declares that an emergency exists…”
Based on these statements, it is clear that city officials understood – more than two years ago - that funds were not sufficient to expand the city’s park system to accommodate growth, and that an emergency existed that required taxpayers to temporarily increase their property taxes to pay for these costs. Presumably, the same exact emergency existed in 1990 and in 1997 as well, and will occur again in 2016!
I’m sorry, but only the most incompetent planner in the world could fail to sufficiently address the same emergency after 18 years, know that it will occur again in 8 years, and do nothing to prevent it. Either that or it’s a case of the most deceptive planner taking advantage of the most gullible group of taxpayers.
Let’s see if we can figure this out together:
1. The city is planning to grow.
2. The city will need to expand its park system to accommodate this growth.
3. The city will need to raise funds to pay for this expansion.
4. The city has two primary methods of raising these funds. It can:
a. Charge adequate impact fees on those who create the need to expand the park system; or
b. Increase property taxes on existing taxpayers who already have an adequate park system, which would not need expansion except to accommodate growth.
Based on the plan proposed by the Parks Department and recommended by the Planning Commission, it’s clear how the city plans to raise these funds.
Are you prepared to be screwed… again?
(For more info on the 2008 Bellingham Park Plan update, see The thousand acre dilemma Parts 1 and 1.5. under the Related Links section below.)