City seeking $40.5 million for parks

By Joshua Adam Hicks

Bellevue News

Bellevue voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve a new $40.5 million levy that would help maintain and enhance their city's park system.

The measure would cost taxpayers 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over the next 20 years and replace the expiring bonds from a 1988 levy.

Estimates from the city indicate that a Bellevue homeowner with a home assessed at $580,000 would pay $71 per year for the package.

Bellevue's City Council approved the 2008 parks-levy measure Oct. 6, following public input and polling.

“We pride ourselves on having one of the best parks systems in the nation,” said City Councilman John Chelminiak. “But to maintain what we have and meet new demands from our increasingly diverse community, we need to provide some funding certainty.”

The new levy package includes $6 million for planning and development of the 27-acre Eastgate Community Park, which takes up more funding than any other single project.

An additional $10 million would go toward land acquisitions aimed at increasing public access to lake shores, connecting local trails, and developing new neighborhood parks.

The city would spend $5 million at Bellevue's Downtown Park, completing a circle around the waterfall and reflecting pond.

Another $5 million would go toward enhancing the small neighborhood parks scattered throughout the city.

The levy also would provide $3.5 million for adding new sports and recreational amenities at the Surrey Downs Community Park, which King County transferred to the city in 2005.

The city would spend $2 million apiece on trail and natural-area improvements, expansion of the Crossroads Community Center, improvements to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, and the final phase of enhancements at Lewis Creek Park.

New synthetic sports-field surfaces at Wilburton and Newport Hills parks will take up $3 million of the proposed levy.

“It is part of our signature as a city, a great system of parks that we have,” said Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger. “This will provide additional fields for developed recreation. It will also preserve some of the natural areas we hold dear.”

Voters rejected Bellevue's last two parks-levy proposals in 2002. The first was for $68 million, later reduced to $60 million.

The measure required approval of two proposals – one for capital and the other for maintenance.

Bellevue Parks Director Patrick Foran has suggested that the levy may have failed because the ballot measure was too difficult to understand.

“If a proposal is too complicated, citizens can be uncomfortable voting for it even though they might support the project list,” he said. “This time we packaged it all together into one ballot measure for park development and maintenance.”

Foran has also suggested the economy may play a role in determining whether this year's levy measure passes.

“People are going to make choices about what to invest in,” he said. “My hope is that people will evaluate the parks proposal not so much in terms of just cost, but also in terms of the value they believe they will derive from their investment.”

Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at jhicks@bellevuenews.us or 425-453-4290.