BELLINGHAM - Voters in southwest Bellingham have formed a park district to tax property owners to help pay for the city's purchase of Chuckanut Ridge, according to ballot returns on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The measure to form the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District and elect its five commissioners went before the proposed district's voters in the Feb. 12 special election.
While too close to call on election night, its lead widened to a little over 3 percentage points Wednesday - with 51.6 percent approval, and 48.4 percent voting no.
A total of 120 votes separated the two sides, with a total of 3,668 votes counted as of Wednesday.
The measure to form the district needed a simple majority to pass.
"We're thrilled. We're looking forward to getting to work and having conversations with the city about the long run, and doing exactly what we said we would do - and no more," said Robyn du Pre, a member of the steering committee that worked to put the measure on the ballot and who owns a home in the district.
Du Pre was referring to a number of concerns raised by opponents of the metropolitan park district, including that the commissioners could raise property taxes more than supporters said they would and keep the district going for longer than the original intent of 10 years.
"This is probably just about finished," said Bill Geyer, who lives in the proposed district and was chairman of the campaign against the measure, after seeing the results on Wednesday.
Geyer was troubled that 1,894 people had voted yes (as of Wednesday) to form a new unit of government.
"That's a big impact when that few number of people can create an entity that has an impact citywide," he added. "We need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of our city charter."
The Auditor's Office counted another 386 votes Wednesday.
The next ballot count will be released at 4 p.m. Thursday. But a surge of new ballots is not expected.
The election will be certified Feb. 26.
The park district's boundaries will roughly encompass southwest Bellingham - south of Western Washington University and west of Interstate 5 to the water.
The citizens' coalition that gathered the signatures to place the measure on the ballot said property owners in the district will pay 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $300,000 home, for example, will pay $84 a year.
The money will be used to repay the $3.2 million loan from the city Greenways endowment fund that helped pay the $8.2 million price tag for the city's purchase of the 82-acre Chuckanut Ridge, also known as the Hundred Acre Wood.
Many area residents have long opposed housing construction on the site and have worked for years to block development - including, most recently, of Fairhaven Highlands - or to convince city officials that it should be acquired as public park or open space.
Supporters have said the park district's sole purpose would be to repay the loan by levying the tax for 10 years. Once that's done, it will disband, they said.
When the City Council approved the purchase in August 2011, members gave themselves six years to repay the loan. The council also said a portion of the property could be sold to cover the loan, if no other means could be found.
The five elected commissioners will serve beginning in January. They will vote to impose the property tax.
Results in the commissioner races were:
Cathy McKenzie, 84.4 percent.
Patricia Montgomery, 15.6 percent.
John Hymas, 53.3 percent.
Dan Remsen, 46.7 percent.
Susan Kaun, 80.6 percent.
Jan Brown withdrew but still got 19.4 percent.
Vincute (Vince) Biciunas (ran unopposed), 100 percent.
John Brown, 64.6 percent.
Anna Williams, 35.4 percent.