Understand the Issues
with LFP's Proposition 1
ISSUE 1: PERMANENT
Lake Forest Park City Council wants to increase our property tax by 61%—FOREVER.
There is no term limit on Prop 1. It would NEVER expire.
This type of permanent levy lift is unprecedented. Over the last 18 elections in King County, 49 levy lifts were proposed. Only one was permanent... the rest had a time-based limitation.
All property owners, both residential and commercial, would be subject to this permanent tax increase. Every LFP resident or shopper would be impacted by it. Landlords would eventually pass it through to tenants in their rent, and business owners would have to include it in the prices they charge customers.
The tax would continue forever, even after all the contemplated improvements have been made, encouraging city leaders to "find" "qualified" projects regardless of citizen priority.
This is not a wise expenditure of resources. This is not how responsible jurisdictions operate.
A Better Way:
These improvements can be funded responsibly—in the same or less time—with term/time-limited, or project specific financing. Grants (public or private), bonds, limited term levies, state or federal funding, and infrastructure funds are all very viable possibilities.
Of those options, voter-approved bonds would be one of the better ways to fund the improvements, by designating specific funds for specific projects. This would make funds available immediately, rather than setting aside funds annually until the necessary amount accumulated. Bond payments could be paid using Real Estate Excise Taxes (REET), thus protecting the City’s General Fund.
ISSUE 2: EXCESSIVE
Prop 1 would generate $50 million dollars over the next 25 years. This is more than can, or should, be reasonably spent for parks and safe streets in our community.
Prop 1's record-breaking tax increase would disproportionately penalize our young families and people on fixed incomes—those who can least afford a massive increase in the midst of the COVID-19 economic turmoil.
Outside of two projects, there are no cost estimates for the projects and activities identified in Prop 1. At best, Prop 1 is based on rough guesstimates, some dating back a number of years. There is no justification for such a massive initial funding proposal when there's no idea of true costs.
Even though the public provided input on most of the projects included in Prop 1, there was almost no opportunity for input on the guesstimated costs.
Virtually all of the funding for park and safe streets improvements would come from Prop 1's massive property tax increase, instead of utilizing a wide variety of other funding sources.
The PROST (Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails) report suggests 10 types of funding sources other than a special tax levy. The Safe Streets report identifies 6 more, outside of the ones the city is already using. These and other funding sources were never adequately examined nor presented to the public for input.
If Prop 1 passes, it would cost the average homeowner in our community more than $360 a year, every year.
If Prop 1 passes, it would make Lake Forest Park one of the most heavily taxed cities in the North End, if not King County.
The new funds generated by Prop 1 would allow expenditures now funded from current tax revenue to be funded from Prop 1, thus freeing the General Fund to be spent on other City Council “pet projects.”
A Better Way:
Alternative funding sources for each project need to be carefully examined before we are asked to pay for them entirely with a huge, unprecedented tax increase.
Citizens should be provided with an explanation of the alternatives that were examined, the results, and how much the request has been reduced as a result of other funds potentially coming into play.
The City Council should present multiple funding alternatives, with pros and cons identified, for community comment.
The community should also be allowed the opportunity to provide input regarding the level of expenditure they deem appropriate for various projects, prior to the City Council making such an unprecedented funding decision.
ISSUE 3: RESTRICTIVE
As our community's needs and priorities evolve over time, Prop 1's funds, by law, cannot be spent on emerging issues such as community services, homelessness, crime, traffic, infrastructure improvements, or climate change, regardless of the level of need.
Due to its restrictive structure, Prop 1 represents an attempt by our current City Council to impose its priorities on all future City Councils and citizens. The permanent restrictions represent a major, ill-advised policy decision made with no public input.
If new priorities or unexpected events in the future require funding , additional funds may need to be raised—even if Prop 1 projects are largely completed. Restrictions and obligations from Prop 1 may limit future City Council options and potentially result in a further increase in City taxes.
A Better Way:
Restricted funding, such as bonds, should be used only for specific, well-defined projects, for a specific amount, over a set time period.
If restricted funding for ongoing operations of a specific nature is deemed advisable, it should be time/term-limited (e.g., renewable 6-year term levies) with the amount reviewed in the context of current priorities before it is renewed.
ISSUE 4: NO CLEAR PLAN
Prop 1 states that funds shall only be spent if identified in an adopted Levy Implementation Plan. There is no plan—it would only be created AFTER Prop 1 has passed.
Should this Plan be developed, there is NO requirement for ANY public input or approval, and the Council can amend the Plan with no community input.
The City Council has had over 3 years since the PROST (Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails) Plan was finalized, and 4 years since the Safe Streets Report was released, to jointly, publicly develop a comprehensive, reasonably detailed plan, including funding options, to address the various recommendations. It has failed to do this.
It does not appear that the City Council consulted any representatives from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Tree Board, or the Planning Commission (all citizen staffed groups organized to advise the City), nor the Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation in the development of Prop 1.
In late May, a month prior to going public with the proposed Prop 1, the Council hired a consultant with $40K of the City’s tax money—not to develop a cogent Plan, but to develop and manage a campaign to “inform” the public about Prop 1.
On June 29th and 30th, still without having developed a Plan, the City held two sparsely attended zoom meetings titled “Parks and Pedestrian Connections, a Community Discussion” where the concept of Prop 1 was presented to the public. Nothing in the meeting announcement indicated a massive tax increase funding mechanism was on the agenda.
Just 22 days later, with no Plan, no funding alternatives presented, no public hearing, and minimal other opportunity for public input or review, the Council voted to place Prop 1 on the ballot.
There has been no attempt to coordinate the projects contemplated under this proposition with any other city priorities in an overall plan, which would direct the new funds to the areas where the community most needs them.
The City’s Safe Streets Report is NOT a plan. As stated by the consultant in the report, it is “a vision for transforming Lake Forest Park’s streets into what the community desires.” Based on input that is now almost 5 years old, 10 projects are broadly explained with no specific definitions, cost estimates, or time estimates to complete the work. The report contains 6 suggested funding sources in addition to those "the city is familiar with," None of those sources is a massive, permanent levy lift.
The City’s PROST Plan states, "Overall, the current level of service provided by the city’s parks, recreational facilities, open spaces, and trails was found to be acceptable, but with an interest in specific additions and improvements." The document then lists 142 items, grouped by location, identified for action. This is a wish list that could be developed into a plan, but it is NOT a plan.
A Better Way:
BEFORE funding is contemplated, a clearly identified plan must be developed for parks and safe street improvements. The plan needs to include sufficiently detailed descriptions of the proposed projects, estimated costs, estimated timelines, and an overview of how these projects are being coordinated among our community's overall priorities. Only then should funding alternatives be developed for either individual, or groups of, projects.
Given the background input contained in the PROST and Safe Streets reports along with current available resources, we can still move forward on our parks and walkway improvements. There are at least two projects considered “shovel ready” that could likely move forward using current resources.
Organizing additional projects—bringing them to the public openly, with enough detail and cost data to facilitate prioritization, and the development of funding alternatives—also need not be a long-term undertaking, given the resources our community already has to offer.
ISSUE 5: LOSS OF CONTROL
Prop 1 lacks accountability and effective controls on the use of its funds. It would give the City Council free reign to undertake significant projects with NO community input or approval.
Prop 1 would permit the City Council to bypass the normal 60% citizen approval needed for the issuance of bonds. Potentially the city could issue millions of dollars of bonds quickly, with no public vote, tying up 25% of the General Fund for many years into the future.
There is no requirement for the City Council to establish a citizen staffed board or commission to provide recommendations or input. There is likewise no requirement to consult with and solicit input from existing citizen staffed groups (the Parks Board, Planning Commission, Tree Board, etc).
The only “control” included in Prop 1 is an annual report to the Council, produced after the fact, with zero consequences if the money has been misused or wasted.
Many activities related to parks and safer streets are already being funded in the City’s current budget. If Prop 1 passes, the City can move those activities over to Prop 1 funding, enabling them to divert current parks/safer streets funding to other unrelated projects.
A Better Way:
Appropriate controls for the funding of our safe streets and park improvements are not difficult if better funding mechanisms are used. A properly constructed bond issue, for example, would require a public vote with a 60% majority to pass.
Using specific funding for individual projects also gives the public the ability to review estimated costs, provide input, approve the expenditure in some cases, and monitor spending on an ongoing basis.
If term-limited levies or bonds are used that cover multiple projects, the community has the ability to require full definition of the planned expenditures, along with ongoing monitoring and explanations of variances before approving a financial commitment. They then have the ability to withhold approval of similar expenditures (or renewals of levies) in the future if commitments were not met or if the funds are no longer needed.