By Evan Smith
Mountlake Terrace voters face a tax measure in the Aug. 2 primary election, but they will find it at the end of a very long ballot.
The item, Proposition 1, is a levy-lid lift, meaning that it would allow the city to raise property taxes beyond voter-approved limits. Part of the levy is a four-year tax to pay for rent on a temporary city hall. The rest, to continue after four years, would pay for parks and recreation in the city.
Mountlake Terrace has been renting city-hall and police space since ceilings collapsed at the former Civic Center eight years ago. In that time, voters have faced two bond measures, both of which fell short of the 60-percent supermajority required for bond measures.
This year’s levy can pass with a simple majority.
Supporters of the measure say that the four years of the city-hall tax will give city officials time to develop a plan for a new city-hall complex.
The measure will be the 19th item on Mountlake Terrace ballots, after the Snohomish County criminal-justice sales-and-use tax measure, and primaries for U.S. Senate, congressional representative, governor and eight other statewide offices, three 1st Legislative District positions, a State Supreme Court position, a Snohomish County Superior Court position and a place on the Snohomish County Public Utility Commission. It’s the last item on all Mountlake Terrace ballots, except those in one precinct that has a contest for Republican precinct committee officer.
Mountlake Terrace Proposition 1 has no organized opposition. That’s far different from the recent bond measures. Those measures brought out strong opposition statements in voters’ pamphlets.
Here is material that will appear in this year’s local voters’ pamphlet:
CITY OF MOUNTLAKE TERRACE
Proposition No. 1
Levy Lid Lift
The Council of the City of Mountlake Terrace adopted Ordinance No. 2684 concerning the City’s regular property tax levy. This proposition would provide funding for Interim City Hall rent and recreation and parks and would authorize a regular property tax levy for 2017 collections of $1.95/$1,000 assessed value (a $0.44 increase over the 2016 rate), increase the 2018-2020 maximum levies by $0.44/$1,000 and 2021 maximum levy by $0.25/$1,000 of assessed value. The 2021 levy amount would be the base to compute subsequent levies.
If approved by voters, this proposition would authorize the City of Mountlake Terrace to add to its regular property tax levy rate an additional 44 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Currently the City is renting office space after a ceiling collapse at the former Civic Center in 2008. Presently, there is not ongoing funding source to enable the City to continue renting space. This increase would bring the regular property tax rate to estimated $1.95 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Of this amount, 19 cents would be used to pay the General Fund’s annual cost for rent of Interim City Hall, and 25 cents would be used for recreation and parks.
After four years (2017-2020), the 19 cents used to pay for rent of Interim City Hall would end, leaving the remaining 25 cents to pay for recreation and parks on an annual basis.
The estimated additional cost for the average home in Mountlake Terrace would be $112.90 per year for the first four years, and then $64.15 thereafter.
Since 2008 the city has reduced staffing levels by 18%. Some city departments like administration have seen reductions in staff by over 30%. Even with these reductions, rent payments for the temporary City Hall have required the City to reduce city services such as not fully staffing our police department. Maintenance and improvements in our 260+ acres of parks and has also suffered.
Proposition 1 would help pay City Hall rent for 4 years while the community comes up with a plan for a scaled back, modest City Hall. Additionally, it would fund parks and recreation improvements and maintenance. By law, after 4 years the City Hall portion of the levy lid lift would expire. The average homeowner would see an increase of about $9/month for the first 4 years and about $5/month after 4 years. Of the 20+ cities in the county, MLT currently has the 7th lowest property taxes. This modest increase will keep the city with the 7th lowest property taxes in the county.
This slight increase will help prevent more drastic cuts to essential city services such as public safety. Police and fire services account for 61% of our general fund dollars and Proposition 1 will help ensure that public safety can be fully funded.
VOTE YES ON PROPOSTION 1 to keep our essential city services, give our police department the resources they need, keep our parks safe and usable, and allow the community to create a plan for a modest city hall.
No community members came forward to serve on a con committee so there is no opposing statement.
Evan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.