On November 1, 2002, King County Executive Ron Sims announces that, due to budget cuts, 24 county parks are scheduled for closure today. Five of these parks are to remain closed unless ownership is transferred to the cities in which they are situated.
Ron Sims listed budget constraints and Initiative 747 as reasons for the seasonal closures. "Parks do not have a dedicated revenue source, so in order to fund mandated services like criminal justice and public health we are forced to make difficult decisions like closing and transferring parks," he said. Washington State ballot Initiative 747, which limits property tax increases to 1 percent per year unless approved by voters, passed on October 9, 2001.
The King County Council closed 20 other parks at the beginning of 2002 to meet the county's budget reduction targets, bringing the number of closed parks by November to 44. All but five parks are set to reopen on March 1, 2003. The five will remain closed and the County hopes they can be transferred to their respective cities.
Definition of Closed
Seasonal closure means all facilities and buildings on park grounds are closed, including bathrooms. Playground equipment is removed or fenced off, and some amenities such as picnic tables and garbage cans are removed. Parks with gates have them shut, and parking lots are closed. There is no landscaping maintenance, although the parks are inspected periodically for hazardous conditions. Public access to the parks is not curtailed.
The County expects to save $194,000 in costs with these closures. The County also plans to take a more entrepreneurial approach to financing the parks, charging higher fees for the use of swimming pools, and generating revenues through concessions and advertising.
Parks closed November 1, 2002 and set to reopen on March 1, 2003 are:
- 132nd Square
- Arbor Lake
- Big Finn Hill
- East Norway Hill
- Evergreen Athletic Fields
- Five Mile Lake
- Juanita Triangle
- Lake Geneva
- Lea Hill
- Maplewood Heights
- North Meridian
- North Shorewood
- Park Orchard
- South County Athletic Complex
- White Center Heights
The five parks set to be closed permanently if not transferred to their respective cities by January 1, 2003 are:
- Beaver Lake Park
- Fort Dent Park
- Juanita Beach Park
- Luther Burbank Park
- Sammamish Cove park
King County voters responded to the closures by approving a parks maintenance and operations levy in November 2003, a measure expected to generate $12 million a year for four years. Meanwhile, the county cut its expenses by transferring ownership of 17 parks and 10 swimming pools to local cities. Each of the parks that had been scheduled for permanent closure were transferred to their respective cities: Beaver Lake Park and Lodge to the City of Sammamish: Ford Dent to Tukwila; Juanita Beach to Kirkland; Luther Burbank to Mercer Island; and Sammamish Cove to Issaquah.
The county took a number of other steps to ease the budget crisis in the parks department, including the promotion of what Sims called "revenue-producing amenities." The most successful of these has been a summer concert series sponsored by U.S. Bank at Marymoor Park in Redmond. The concert series generated nearly $260,000 in revenue for the park system during its inaugural season in 2003. The county also adopted parking and other user fees at several parks. User fees were expected to produce $3 million in new revenue in 2004.