Voters should say yes to Metro Parks bond issue

The News TribuneApril 6, 2014 

Polar bear Glacier swims toward a fish at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 2012. The bear exhibit needs to be brought up to modern standards of care.

STAFF FILE

Tacoma residents have an amazing asset in their Metro Parks system, from such regional attractions as Point Defiance Park and Northwest Trek to neighborhood parks, playfields and community centers.

But like a homeowner who needs to put on a new roof or take out a loan to add a bathroom, taxpayers must invest in their park system if it is to thrive and not deteriorate. That’s why it’s important that voters approve Proposition 1 on the April 22 ballot. The $198 million bond measure targets capital improvements and safety upgrades throughout Metro Parks’ properties. It needs approval by 60 percent of voters.

The measure would cost the owner of a $171,000 home – the average in the taxing district – $8.21 per month, or just under $100 a year. That would be on top of an existing $84.3 million parks bond measure passed in 2005, which costs $6 a month, bringing the total to $170 annually.

Together, the two measures make significant inroads on the $500 million in capital needs identified in the district’s master plan. Metro Parks was able to leverage the 2005 measure’s funding into more than $51 million in outside investment – grants, donations and philanthropic gifts – something park officials expect to be able to do again with the 2014 bond.

The projects funded by the 2005 bond are coming in on time and on budget, reflecting responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

The biggest-ticket item in the current bond measure – about $42 million – is replacement of the 51-year-old North Pacific Aquarium at Point Defiance. It’s projected to fail within five years, and the park district wants to build a new facility to house a Pacific Rim aquarium.

The existing building would be turned over to the Zoo Society, which would raise money for a new South American rain forest exhibit. If the district waits too long, however, the building won’t be viable for reuse due to saltwater infiltration. The polar bear and Rocky Shores exhibits also badly need renovations, costing another $23 million.

The district’s regional parks would get upgrades. Most important, Point Defiance Park’s water lines are close to 100 years old and need replacing at a cost expected to be about $6 million.

The bond includes $11 million for improvements to the Center at Norpoint, Peoples Center and the Tacoma Nature Center, and $6 million in seed money for construction of Eastside Community Center. Since the East Side Boys & Girls Club closed in 2010, youngsters in that area have had few recreation choices. This should be a high priority for the district as well as community partners.

Among other provisions: $14 million for improvements at virtually every neighborhood park facility; $10.4 million for upgrades at the larger community parks; and $13 million for waterfront parks. Wapato Lake needs water-quality improvements and dock repairs.

It’s never easy for voters to increase their tax bill, but the investments in this bond measure will make their parks safer and more enjoyable for decades to come. The News Tribune editorial board recommends a yes vote.

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