- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—BELLINGHAM — City residents won’t be voting on a new, 10-year Greenways levy on Nov. 3.

An agenda item suggesting that the levy, known as Greenways IV, be put on the ballot for that election didn’t make it out of the Bellingham City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee on Monday, July 27.

The committee would’ve needed to send that request to the full City Council, which would’ve had to approve it Monday night in order for the measure to meet the deadline to be on the November ballot.

As a result, Bellingham residents will be voting on the property tax measure some time in 2016 to continue paying for parks, trails and green spaces.

A group of citizens started the Greenways program in 1990 to raise money to buy land for parks and trails, preserve open space and for conservation. Bellingham voters have passed three property tax levies since then to support the effort, including Greenways III in 2006.

The current Greenways III levy runs through the end of 2016.

The City Council could place the measure on the February, April, August or November ballot next year. It hasn’t yet picked a date.

Council committee members felt, overall, that they wanted to give more time for a citizens committee — the same group that would campaign for the measure — to work on the proposal, to hammer out projects, and to talk to voters.

“We’re still at the philosophical point of discussing a lot of this,” City Council member Roxanne Murphy said, adding that she didn’t want to “go forward with vague ideas and ask people for a vote.”

Murphy is on the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee.

In bringing the measure to the council committee on Monday, council member Jack Weiss also wanted members to consider that the city would have to pay up to $160,000 if the next Greenways levy goes on a ballot where the city doesn’t already have other races. The cost to the city also depends on other federal, state and local measures on a particular ballot.

Weiss, in going over the pros and cons of different dates for putting Greenways IV on a particular ballot, noted that the county likely will ask voters in November 2016 to raise their property taxes to pay for emergency medical services.

“Voters might not react to that in a positive way,” Weiss said, of having two property tax measures on the same ballot.

The proposal that went before the council’s committee Monday also had asked for a maximum levy rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

That would’ve been less than the maximum of 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value of the three previous Greenways.

Seth Fleetwood, a former Whatcom County Council and Bellingham City Council member now heading up the citizens committee for Greenways IV, said the group preferred the 57-cent rate.

“Greenways has acquired a good brand in this community,” Fleetwood said. “We’re not creating a new tax. We’re simply reactivating what has been.”

When the City Council decides which ballot Greenways IV will go on, members also will decide the rate that will go before voters.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or [email protected]

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(c)2015 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

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