$2.5 million grant advised for Japanese Gulch

MUKILTEO — Voters here won’t have to decide this November whether to tax themselves to preserve land for recreation in Japanese Gulch.

The Mukilteo City Council decided earlier this month against pursuing a ballot measure similar to last year’s request for $3.2 million that narrowly failed.

The effort to preserve the gulch did get some welcome news, however, as last Friday a Snohomish County advisory panel recommended the city be awarded a $2.5 million grant to go toward buying property in the popular recreation area.

“I think that level of commitment and support from the county was awesome,” Councilman Richard Emery said.

The County Council still must approve the grant, with a vote expected next month.

If it gets the final nod, the city would have $4.3 million in hand to go toward preservation. City officials have said it could take as much as $6.5 million to buy the 98-acre piece of property.

Mukilteo officials would have had to submit a measure to the county by Aug. 6 to qualify for the November ballot.

At the time, it was still unknown whether the city would win the grant. Officials weren’t sure how much to ask for, Emery said.

Now, though the city won’t to go to voters this year, it doesn’t need nearly as much as it did a year ago. Since then, the preservation effort has received $1 million from the Legislature and now looks as if it will get the money from the county as well.

Still, though the city is within roughly $2 million of its goal, rounding up that sum is not a slam dunk.

Emery said the city has about $400,000 on hand that could go toward the effort — about half from property sales and the other half in a park land acquisition fund.

More would still be needed. The City Council could approve bonds on its own, Emery said.

More than 58 percent voted for last year’s measure but as a tax levy it required a supermajority of 60 percent to pass.

Still, advocates have seen the strong majority as an indication of support for the cause.

“I personally think that’s really strong advice,” Emery said.

Councilwoman Linda Grafer isn’t so sure.

The city has been negotiating with the property owner, Metropolitan Creditors Trust of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and the two sides are far apart, she said.

The city and property owner each had their own appraisal done, Grafer said. To resolve the gap, a third, independent appraisal was begun and the results have yet to come back, she said.

Grafer’s not sure if she’d support a council-approved bond.

“I’d have to have a lot more information before I can make that commitment,” she said.

Having served on the city’s parks board for 20 years, she saw many tax measures narrowly fail to get the 60 percent supermajority, Grafer said.

“I’m conflicted because I want this so badly for the city but now I have to look at it from the other side,” she said. “I’m not going to put the (financial) health of the city in jeopardy.”

Emery said the council could discuss the matter at one of its upcoming meetings, on Tuesday or Sept. 16.

“We really want to give the public as much of an opportunity to comment on this as possible,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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