Renton residents’ property taxes may increase, as early as next year, to support maintenance of city parks and facilities.
Renton City Council voted 4-2 to consider a proposed $14.46 million parks project to take care of major maintenance that has been on the backlog since the economic crash in 2008 caused resources to flow to essential city services.
If approved by council, the property tax rate would increase $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a median Renton home valued at $378,000, this would mean a $25 increase in yearly property taxes. Renton Chief Administrative Officer Bob Harrison said this means about 50 percent of homeowners will be paying less than that, with the other half paying more.
Some council members mentioned that the average property tax increase is more likely to be around $50 for the average Renton home since they’re valued more around $500,000.
The council will have two readings of the ordinance before approval. Council president Ed Prince said he’s unsure when the property tax would increase because the ordinance is in early stages at the council and that it seems if approved it could begin in 2019, but that these parks need the maintenance.
“I frankly, think that is probably the most important thing to me is you take care of the things you have. We still want the (parks and facilities). We have to be first class,” Prince said.
Council member Ruth Pérez, who voted no along with council member Don Persson, said she believes the council should look at another form of payment instead of increasing property taxes.
Both Persson and Pérez emphasized they took issues with the financing or lack of information on the longevity of this funding, and that they supported parks and critical maintenance needed on the parks.
“While campaigning last year, I heard loud and clear from so many homeowners that a property tax increase should be a last resort option. There are too many residents who told me that they had trouble keeping up with their homeownership due to the annual increases in their property taxes,” Pérez said in an email.
Persson said he would have most-likely voted yes if there was more information on the prioritization, cost and time estimates of each maintenance project being included. He also felt it was unclear from the committee of the whole meeting whether this will keep park’s maintenance off backlog again in the long term.
“I would want to be sure that the public clearly knows we’re going to be raising their taxes,” Persson said. “I just want to have the right information, and I want the public to have it as well.”
Mayor Denis Law released a statement about this funding package in the Mayor Newsletter, mentioning that it was an important recommendation and the work that went into identifying parks priorities for the city.
“The vote Monday to proceed with a funding package to provide these upgrades will ensure Renton residents continue to enjoy our park and trail system including Gene Coulon Park, the Henry Moses Aquatic Center, and other popular programs offered at our community centers,” Law said in the newsletter.
How it led to property taxes
When the recession hit, Renton turned its financial focus on the essential services.
According to the draft Community Advisory Committee report from May 2018, as park maintenance became a lower priority, major maintenance has taken up all of parks department funding. The majority of new construction and development came from outside grants and funds.
The CAC was created in fall 2017 to help create a $70 million parks funding package. A group of Renton residents and business owners were called on to decide which park projects should be included in the package.
There has been heavy use of the parks, the report stated 9 in 10 Renton residents in a previous poll said they had used park facilities. And while Renton’s population has increased 23 percent since 2009, park acreage increased 1 percent.
If no funding was given to the backlog of major maintenance needed at these parks they would be hard to keep up with, according to the draft report.
Sometime after Prince joined council in 2012, the city created a three-tier plan to help with financial stabilization: creating the Business and Occupation tax, separating the Regional Fire Authority from the city and as it’s own taxing authority, and the last tier was creating a major parks funding package to go to ballot.
When the city council was presented with survey results asking 450 Renton residents about adding a ballot measure for $70 million in parks maintenance and improvement, there was mixed results, with stronger feelings towards opposition. A lesser $40 million dollar ballot measure also received mixed opinions.
The CAC also developed a list of essential major maintenance that needs to take place in existing parks, about $12.9 million. When the poll showed a ballot measure would not be well-received, the city was then provided alternative funding option of increasing property taxes, to pay for the $12.96 million, plus $1.5 million in contingency and inflation costs.
“They said, ‘We understand the residents are suffering from tax fatigue, the county puts stuff on the ballot, the state puts stuff on the ballot, everyone understands the tax burden. If you don’t want to (put this on the ballot), we should still take care of the major maintenance,’” Prince said about the CAC.
At the Sept. 10 committee of the whole meeting, Harrison said the council made a commitment to reduce property taxes a few years ago, but maintained the ability for a higher level of property taxes. Since they had more authority than what they chose to tax, they would be able to do use an increase within this gap to fund a 20-year bond for major maintenance.
Harrison said this $25 increase would be a very small piece compared to the amount city property taxing decreased when the RFA separated. However, the RFA still taxes separately from city of Renton.
The yearly increase in property taxes would generate the $1.1 million the city needs to pay off the bond each year.
One member of the CAC, Jeff Kelly, said as new areas of the city continue to grow in south Renton, there’s no park acreage, so residents living in the East Highlands have no parks, and are the farthest distance from parks. There was also debate in the CAC regarding whether to focus on geographical equity or build up parks in the downtown Renton as the center of the city.
Kelly and Prince, who attended many of the meetings, said there was dissent over where the money should go.
“We represent different ideas and values, we come from different areas in Renton,” Kelly said. “Everybody has their favorite park.”
The May report passed the CAC with a 11-2 vote. According to May 16 meeting minutes, Melody Kroeger voted no and explained that she supported parks but opposed the funding source, property taxes, as it would “fall disproportionately on the low and fixed income because property taxes are regressive, and other services are more important to fund.”
Although there was dissent on the funding and the $70 million dollar package in the CAC, everyone agreed on the $14.46 million package that would be approved in the council-manic measure proposed at city council.
“We owe it to the residents of the city to continue to have our parks be the jewels that they are, and the only way we can do that is to continue to take care of what we have,” Prince said. “With city finances being tighter, we have to have other ways of making sure we keep our parks looking as great as they do.”