Park and Hospital District levies pass
By Elizabeth Lande, Managing & Copy Editor
and Isabelle Spence, Editor-in-Chief
In accordance with the recent election results, islanders will continue to have a park district while also becoming the 59th district in the state to create a hospital district. Both issues passed with a significant majority — the Park District at close to 80 percent in favor and the hospital district with just over 70 percent.
While voting on Park District levies is a regular process, occurring every four to six years, this one carried particular importance. Without it, the Park District likely would have run out of funds a few months into 2020.
“We would have had no choice but to lay off most of our staff and close most of our facilities pretty much immediately until an approved levy in 2020 start[ed] funding again in April 2021,” Park District executive director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said.
An attempt in April to increase the levy from 41 to 52 cents per $1000 of assessed property value failed. Board members settled on 45 cents for the November ballot. In theory, this amount will be able to cover basic costs as well as unforeseen emergencies.
“The primary reason people stated they voted against that April levy was due to concerns about rising property taxes,” Ott-Rocheford said. “We took those concerns to heart; evaluated the projects we felt must be addressed; honored the desire for increased recreation programming — but at a more modest increase; sustained our reserve requirements for cash flow management and emergency funds; and arrived at the 45 cent rate.”
Among the projects not covered by this levy are permanent restrooms at every park, work on the Tramp Harbor dock, and staff wage increases. Still, despite these limitations, the district hopes to operate to the best of their ability.
“We plan to maintain our current level of financial stability and integrity; honor the needs of our staff; be engaged in the community; provide excellent recreation programming, parks and facilities; be responsible stewards of the environment; and to achieve the highest level of administrative excellence,” Ott-Rocheford said.
Another significant issue on the recent ballot was the possibility of Vashon having a hospital district. Such a district would provide Vashon with a steady, dependable clinic for on-island care. The district would be paid for by an increase in property taxes.
The months leading up to the vote were filled with campaigns both for and against the district.
“We need a hospital district so that we have stable revenue to attract a medical provider, to have input in the kind of services that are available to us, and to keep local control of tax dollars,” Beth Lindsay, campaign manager for Health Care for Vashon, said.
Now that the Vashon public has voted in approval of the bill, the hospital district can begin to develop.
“After the election is certified later this month, the commissioners will begin setting up the district,” Lindsay said. “The public should and will have input at every point in the process.”
However, opponents of the initiative were worried that a hospital district would leave decision-making power out of the hands of islanders. Supporters of the district were aware of these opinions.
“That’s why we spent the past year educating community members on the need for a hospital district, its role in providing stable funding for health services, and the roles of the district commissioners,” Lindsay said. “In the end, voters showed they understand the value of access to local health care.”