South Sound News

Tacoma voters consider new tax increase for parks and safety

Proposition 1 would restore a property tax levy — currently at $0.46 per $1,000 of assessed valuation — to $0.75 per $1,000 of valuation. Voters approved a $0.75 levy in 2010, but Metro Parks Tacoma is “currently charging the 2009 tax rate,” according to spokesperson Hunter George.

“You can only collect 1% more than the amount you collected the year before. Where it gets complicated is when property values go up, it pushes the rate down,” George said. “So in 2009, Metro Parks charged 46 cents … and then property values started going up. That increase in values is what pushed the rate down.”

If passed, Proposition 1 would provide more funding for:

- Maintaining and cleaning parks, picnic areas, restrooms, and facilities

- Establishing a park ranger program and upgrading security systems to improve safety

- Continuing youth after-school sports, recreation activities and child care at schools and community centers by replacing one-time federal recovery funds (provided during the COVID-19 pandemic)

- Implementing wildfire prevention for urban forests

If passed, the restored levy would cost the average Tacoma homeowner $11.91 per month/$142.92 a year. (This figure is based on an average property valuation of $493,000).

“I’m very concerned about the homeowners in the poorer parts of the city, in particular South Tacoma,” Curtis Mehlhaff, a Tacoma resident who wrote the rebuttal statement against Prop 1 in Pierce County’s voter pamphlet, said. “This is going to be an outrageous cost for them. And they’re already having a hard time making ends meet with the greatest inflation we’ve had in 40 years. So what does the park system want to do? They want to inflate it even more! I mean, come on!”

Mehlhaff said the levy increase “ought to be based upon need,” not because of increasing property values. He also calls Prop 1 “irreversible.”

“If (voters) vote no, the parks are just going to get back against next year and says, ‘Let’s do it again.’ But if you vote yes, it’s over, kids. You’re going to be paying twice as much in five years. And that, you can’t undo,” Mehlhaff said.

If Proposition 1 is approved by voters, unarmed park rangers would be hired to patrol parks facilities throughout the day.

“It’s that nice middle ground,” George said. “It provides that level of security. The park ranger will call police if there’s something more serious… we feel that maybe we can handle that and rely on (law enforcement) for the more serious issues.”

When it comes to the type of crime at city parks, Metro Parks Tacoma reports an increase in arsons, spark fires and vandalism.

Metro Parks Tacoma currently contracts with Pacific North West’s Finest, which recently rebranded from Seattle’s Finest Security.

Public safety is the top concern shared by residents to Metro Parks Tacoma, according to George. He said it has resulted in increasing costs for security patrols.

George said that in 2019 and 2020, Metro Parks Tacoma spent around $158,000 on security. It spent more than a million dollars this year alone, according to George.

Park rangers would patrol facilities during regular hours, while security patrols would continue during after-hours.

“It’s having uniformed staff member, but who’s not armed,” George said. “Not everything requires a response by someone with a gun on their hip, right? So it might be, in some cases, you can diffuse something in a softer way and save the police for the really serious issues where you do want that extra level of security.”

Responding to these security concerns and the park ranger program, Mehlhaff said public safety was a problem exceeding park boundaries. He doesn’t believe providing additional funding to Metro Parks Tacoma will provide much benefit.

Voters can read more about Proposition 1 on Page 31 of the Pierce County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet.