MLT Prop 1: What exactly did we just vote for?
Mountlake Terrace Proposition 1, which was on the August 2nd ballot, is currently passing with just over 53% approval. What exactly is Proposition 1 and what does it mean for Mountlake Terrace? Residents who have had the time to research a bit probably have a good understanding of what the proposition is. But many comments online and comments from City staff and Council members indicate there was a fair amount of confusion as to what exactly we were voting for.
The biggest misconception I've heard is that we were voting for a new City Hall. This isn't really surprising considering in the past six years residents have seen three other Proposition 1's that were about a new City Hall.
So what were we voting for? We voted for two things: rent payments for City Hall for four years only and a permanent funding source for Parks and Recreation to offset the General Fund monies that subsidize our parks and recreation department.
Rent Payments for City Hall
Back around 1960 residents voted for and approved a new City Hall that would be paid for over a specific number of years with a property tax. That City Hall was built and the cost of the City Hall was paid off over a number of years and when it was paid off, that property tax went away. In July of 2008 the ceiling collapsed in the City Hall council chambers and the building was deemed unsafe and later demolished in 2010. City Hall moved to it's current location renting the 2nd floor of an office building on 220th. At that point the City did not have a dedicated funding source to pay for the City Hall rent. The City made the payments work for a while but these payments have put a huge burden on our general fund as well as nearly depleting our reserves. From 2010 to 2013 three separate measures have been on the ballot to build a new City Hall and all have fallen short of the required 60% approval to pass.
What the passing of Proposition 1 means is that we have the funds to pay rent on City Hall for four years only. This money will come from a temporary property tax increase. In those four years the community will need to plan a new City Hall, vote for it with 60%+ approval, and have it designed and constructed. After those four years this temporary property tax will go away but will need to be replaced with a slightly-less temporary (likely 30-year) property tax to pay for the new City Hall, just like the 1960 City Hall.
Recreation and Parks Funding
Our recreation department has a budget of around $3 million a year. Fortunately, most of that is funded by user fees such as swimming lesson fees, field rentals, etc. There is about an 85% cost recovery for the department, which means they bring in around $2.5 million each year form these fees. That leaves somewhere around $500,000 (it varies year to year) that needs to come from our General Fund to make up the difference. What Proposition 1 did was provide dedicated funding for approximately that difference. This will free up some funds in the General Fund that were previously subsidizing our recreation programs.
The City Council does have some flexibility on how they want to appropriate general fund dollars that have been freed up due to Proposition 1. We've have a long list of park capital projects (new bathrooms, play equipment, etc.) that have gone unfilled due to lack of funds. We currently don't have budget to implement the Ballinger Park Master Plan. The City's reserves (rainy day fund) have been dwindling and staff positions in our police, parks, and other departments have gone unfilled since we've had this extra City Hall rent payment. Planning for a new city hall is going to require funds to work with an architect and estimator.
All these decisions will be made over the coming months as the city staff and city council work through the 2017-2018 budget.