City seeks OK for gulch levy

By Sara Bruestle | Aug 08, 2012

The city of Mukilteo will ask voters on the Nov. 6 ballot to OK taxes to help acquire the Japanese Gulch for parkland.

Proposition 1 is a five-year acquisition levy to raise up to $3.2 million to purchase the last 97 acres of undeveloped land within the gulch for parkland and open space.

If voters say yes, the estimated tax rate for the levy is 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $347,000 home would see property taxes go up $69.40 a year or about $5.80 a month.

Mukilteo City Council voted unanimously on Monday to put the measure on the ballot – and just in time. The deadline to get it on the ballot was Aug. 7.

“It’s way past time to ask the citizens on Japanese Gulch,” Mayor Joe Marine said. “It’s just as bad to lose the gulch and to never have asked if they would support it and pay for it.”

The 97 acres owned by Metropolitan Trust is worth an estimated $6 million. The city is in negotiations with the owner.

Mukilteo has purchased about 25 acres of the gulch so far, some of it located in Everett. Most of the last 97 acres is also in Everett. The city of Everett has offered to de-annex the property, as long as it is kept as parkland.

“I won’t support any more funding for parks unless the citizens ask for it,” Councilmember Randy Lord said. “We’ve spent more on parks in our tenure than I can remember ever being done in the history of the city.

“But if the citizens vote to raise their own taxes, then OK.”

The city has applied for several grants to purchase all or part of the gulch. Mukilteo was awarded $500,000 by Snohomish County Conservation Futures to go toward the purchase of the 97 acres.

The city expects to get another $2.8 million in grants, and continues to seek other grants, City Administrator Joe Hannan said.

The mayor acknowledged that the city has asked voters to pass parkland levies in the past. Each one of them has failed. However, he said this time it will be different because it’s for the gulch.

“I know the other ones have failed, but quite frankly, we’ve never seen the energy behind acquisition like this before,” Marine said. “If any have the chance of passing, it’s got to be this one.”

Japanese Gulch Group surveyed Mukilteo voters last week to gauge their interest in helping to fund a purchase of the gulch through a tax levy. The group polled a sample of 300 voters.

In the survey, 65 percent of voters said they would support a five-year levy to help purchase land in the gulch.

“The polling is strong encouragement that we’re going in the right direction,” Councilmember Emily Vanderwielen said. “The ballot [measure] I think shows respect to the community to ask them whether or not we should spend more tax dollars.”

The JGG was founded in 2007 with the mission to save and preserve the undeveloped land in Japanese Gulch as parks and open space. The city has partnered in its efforts.

Residents spoke on Monday to ask the council to put the five-year levy on the ballot.

“Green space goes away,” Scott Casselman said. “It’s not like other stuff, where you can come back for a second chance. Let’s close out the deal and make Japanese Gulch green forever.”

Some on the council said they are worried that by putting the measure on the ballot, they will be asking to raise taxes one too many times. Council raised property taxes by 3 percent this year and recently passed a 1 percent utility tax.

“We pay for everything else here, and this is asking the citizens, in addition to all of these things, would you be willing to tax yourself for this?” Lord said. “I’m not sure how many times we want to ask that question.”

Councilmember Steve Schmalz said he was concerned that voters may not pass the levy because there will be another levy – a school bus levy for the Mukilteo School District – on the November ballot.

Yet others on the council are hopeful that voters will pass the levy.

“It’s a lot to ask of our citizens, but I like the idea that if they say yes, that we could have the resources to really wrap this up,” said Council President Richard Emery.

“There is a timeline here. It will be on the market, and it will be sold to somebody at some time. We just hope the majority of it is to us.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: John T Baker | Aug 17, 2012 22:37

This is a worthy investment.  If you are into walking, hiking, or biking, it's hard to find a better place for these activities and it's right here!   My only concern is that Council will pay $6M for this property because they have $6M.  This property would take an enormous investment in site preparation and infrastructure to make it commercially useable.  There is a lot of readily developable commercial property in the local property inventory that will keep the gulch undeveloped for some time to come.  I just hope the City can handle this professionally with Metopolitan Trust and NOT give away the bank.  Unfortunately the $6M figure seems to already be established by the what are they negotiating?  How many appraisals have been done?  Does this price reflect the property value crash?  The Council thinks property values will drop 30% if scheduled commercial flights are that factored in or not?  Let's buy it but let's negotiate hard because the sellers position is weak for the foreseeable future.

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