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Metropolitan Park Districts

This page provides an overview of metropolitan park districts in Washington State, including their powers, incorporation and annexation processes, property tax levies, and governance.



Overview

Metropolitan park districts (MPDs), authorized by chapter 35.61 RCW, may be created for the management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards, and recreational facilities. An MPD may include territory located in portions or in all of one or more cities or counties.

Metropolitan park districts generally offer more fiscal capacity and flexibility than park and recreation districts or park and recreation service areas. In particular, metropolitan park districts only require approval by a simple majority of voters, after which the MPD's legislative body may impose permanent property taxes, whereas park and recreation districts/service areas may only impose property tax levies for six years at a time, subject to 60% voter approval. For more details see our page Comparison of Recreation Districts.

A metropolitan park district may also be formed for a limited purpose that identifies specific public parks and/or recreational facilities (such as specific swimming pools, playfields, or public parks). A limited purpose MPD must establish its levy rate within the initial ballot measure. The rate becomes the maximum levy rate until a future ballot measure is placed before the voters for a levy rate lift.


How Many Metropolitan Park Districts Are There?

See our List of Metropolitan Park Districts.


Function and Powers of Metropolitan Park District

An MPD may:

  • Purchase, acquire and condemn lands within or without the boundaries of park district
  • Issue and sell warrants, short- term obligations, or general obligation bonds
  • Issue revenue bonds
  • Petition for the creation of local improvement districts
  • Employ counsel, provide for park police officers, secretary of the board, and all necessary employees
  • Establish civil service for employees
  • Regulate, manage and control, improve, acquire, extend and maintain, open and lay out, parks, parkways, boulevards, avenues, aviation landings and playgrounds, within or without the park district
  • Authorize, conduct, and manage:
    • the letting of boats or other amusement apparatus,
    • the operation of bath houses,
    • the purchase and sale of foodstuffs or other merchandise,
    • the giving of vocal or instrumental concerts or other entertainments,
    • the management and conduct of such forms of recreation or business as it shall judge desirable or beneficial for the public, or for the production of revenue for expenditure for park purposes.
  • Sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of surplus property.
  • Annex territory.

Formation of Metropolitan Park District

There are two ways to initiate the formation of a park district, both of which require approval by a majority of voters within the proposed district:

  • By petition
  • By a resolution of the governing body or bodies within which the district is to be located. (RCW 35.61.020)

Local Government Resolution Method

A city or county may initiate district formation by adopting a resolution submitting a proposition for its formation to voters within the proposed district boundaries. If the district includes area within the county or other cities and counties, the legislative body of each city and/or county that includes a portion or all of the area in the district must adopt a resolution submitting the proposition to the voters.

Examples

Citizen Petition Method

A metropolitan district may be initiated if a petition proposing its creation is submitted to the county auditor of each county in which all or a portion of the proposed district would be located, signed by at least 15% of the registered voters residing in the area to be included. Where the petition is for creation of a district in more than one county, the petition must be filed with the county auditor of the county having the greater area of the proposed district, and a copy filed with each other county auditor of the other counties covering the proposed district.

The petition must meet the requirements of RCW 35.21.005 and include the “warning” language set out in that statute. MRSC recommends that the “warning” language be placed on each signature page of the petition so signers are clearly notified that they must be registered voters of the area proposed to be included within the district.

Petition or resolution contents: The petition proposing the creation of a metropolitan park district, or the resolution submitting the question to the voters, must indicate the choice and describe the composition of the initial board of commissioners of the district that is proposed under RCW 35.61.050 and must list a name for the district. (RCW 35.61.030)


Governing Body Alternatives

The resolution or petition submitting the ballot proposition must designate the composition of the board of metropolitan park commissioners from among three alternatives:

  • Five commissioners may be elected at the same election creating the district;
  • For a district located entirely within one city or the unincorporated area of one county, the legislative authority of the city or county may act as the metropolitan park board; or
  • For a district located in multiple cities or counties, each legislative authority may appoint one or more members to serve as the board via interlocal agreement.

Note: Metropolitan park districts created by a vote of the people prior to June 2002 may not change the composition and method of selection of their governing authority without approval of the voters.

Five elected commissioners

Five commissioners of the district may be selected at the same election at which the proposition is submitted to the voters as to whether a metropolitan park district is to be formed. No primary is held to nominate candidates. The election of park commissioners is null and void if the metropolitan park district is not created.

Candidates must run for specific commission positions, and the terms must be staggered in accordance with RCW 35.61.050. Thereafter, all commissioners will be elected to six-year terms of office.

The initial commissioners take office immediately when elected and qualified, and, for purposes of computing their terms of office, the terms are assumed to commence on the first day of January in the year after they are elected.

All commissioners serve until their respective successors are elected, qualified, and assume office in accordance with RCW 29A.60.280. Vacancies are to be filled as provided in chapter 42.12 RCW.

Legislative Body of One City or County (Ex Officio)

If the proposed MPD is wholly within one city or county, the governing body of such city or legislative authority of such county may be designated to serve in an ex officio capacity as the board of metropolitan park commissioners, provided that when creation of the district is proposed by citizen petition, the city or county approves by resolution such designation.

Legislative Bodies of Multiple Cities and/or Counties (Interlocal Agreement)

If the proposed district lies within more than one city and/or county:

  • Each city governing body and county legislative authority may be designated to collectively serve ex officio as the board of metropolitan park commissioners through selection of one or more members from each to serve as the board, provided that:
  • When creation of the district is proposed by citizen petition, each city governing body and county legislative authority approves by resolution such designation.
  • Within six months of the date of certification of election results approving creation of the district, the size and membership of the board is determined through interlocal agreement of each city and county.
  • The interlocal agreement specifies the method for filling vacancies on the board.

Compensation of Governing Body

  • Only separately elected metropolitan park commissioners are eligible to receive compensation, adopted by resolution, for each day or portion of a day devoted to the business of the district; city or county elected officials serving in an ex officio capacity may not receive additional compensation as MPD commissioners.
  • The maximum daily and annual compensation amounts and procedures are established by RCW 35.61.150 and are adjusted by the state Office of Financial Management every five years based on inflation. (See WSR 18-11-088, effective 2018; the next increase will occur January 1, 2024.)
  • Any commissioner may file a written waiver to waive all or any portion of their compensation payable under this section as to any month or months during their term of office.

Formation Requirements

Feasibility and Cost Studies

None required.

State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Review

The formation of a metropolitan park district is categorically exempt from the requirements of SEPA because a metropolitan park district is a type of special purpose district and, under WAC 197-11-800(16), the formation of a special purpose district is categorically exempt from the requirements of SEPA.

Public Hearing Requirements

None required for formation.

Resubmittal of Petition

Not addressed.

Election to Form District

Where no boundary review board exists

  • The ballot proposition authorizing creation of a metropolitan park district appears on the ballot of the next general election or at the next special election date specified under RCW 29A.04.330 occurring 60 or more days after:
    • the last resolution proposing the creation of the park district is adopted;
    • or the date the county auditor certifies that the petition proposing creating the district has sufficient valid signatures.
  • Where a petition is filed with two or more county auditors, the county auditors must confer and issue a joint certification.

Where a boundary review board exists

  • Where the proposed district is located wholly or in part in a county where there is boundary review board, notice of the proposal must be filed with the boundary review board.
  • A special election is held on the date specified under RCW 29A.04.330 that is 60 or more days after proposal is approved or is deemed to have approved by boundary review board.

City exception: The creation of a metropolitan park district is not subject to review by a boundary review board if the proposed district only includes one or more cities.

Ballot proposition

The proposition must include the district’s name and board composition, and it must give voters the following two choices exactly as written (RCW 35.61.030(3)):

"For the formation of a metropolitan park district to be governed by [insert board composition described in ballot proposition]."

"Against the formation of a metropolitan park district."

When a proposition for formation of a metropolitan park district is limiting its purpose, taxing powers and/or being formed for specifically identified facilities, the ballot proposition must specifically identify those public parks or recreational facilities to be funded and state the maximum regular levy rate. 

If a majority of voters approve the formation of the metropolitan park district, the district is created as a municipal corporation effective immediately upon certification of the election results and its name must be that designated in the ballot proposition. (RCW 35.61.040)


Metropolitan Park District Finances

A metropolitan park district (MPD) is a junior taxing district that has two regular property tax levies available - one of $0.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation (AV) and one of $0.25. They are considered as a single levy (up to $0.75) for the purposes of the 1% annual levy limits in chapter 84.55 RCW, which sets limits on the amount by which a levy can be increased (RCW 35.61.210). However, the levy rate could potentially be reduced through prorationing, and the two portions of the levy have different rankings in the prorationing statute (RCW 84.52.010).

Any taxing jurisdiction, including a metropolitan park district, that is levying property taxes at a rate lower than its maximum rate can ask the voters to lift the levy lid by more than one percent. A simple majority vote is required. For more information, see our Levy Lid Lifts page.

A metropolitan park district may also impose one-year excess levies, subject to 60% voter approval and minimum validation (turnout) requirements. See RCW 84.52.052RCW 35.61.210, and Washington State Constitution, Art. 7, Sec. 2(a).

Metropolitan park districts may issue general obligation debt in an amount equal to 2 ½ percent of their assessed valuations. (RCW 35.61.110)  Of this 2 ½ percent, ¼ percent may be nonvoted (also called councilmanic) debt. (RCW 35.61.100) The rest must be voted. The source for repayment of nonvoted debt is the district’s general fund. For voted debt, debt service is paid from an excess property tax levy, which must be passed by a 60 percent vote, with an election turnout of at least 40 percent of those voting in the last general election. (RCW 84.52.056 and art. 7, sec.2, of the constitution.) This debt must be used for capital purposes (RCW 84.52.056) and can issued for a maximum of 20 years. (RCW 35.61.100)

Districts may also issue all kinds of short-term debt: tax anticipation notes, bond anticipation notes, revenue anticipation notes, grant anticipation notes as well as use lines of credit. (RCW 35.61.100)

The ex officio treasurer of the district must be the county treasurer of the county within which all, or the major portion, of the district lies, unless otherwise designated by the district (RCW 35.61.180). If the district boundaries are coterminous with the boundaries of a city, the city may act as the district treasurer. Otherwise, the district can designate a different treasurer only if the board has received the approval of the county treasurer. If the district is someone other than the city or county treasurer, the treasurer must be bonded.

If the district is using the county treasurer, the district's tax revenues must be placed in a separate fund within the county treasurer's office to be known as the "metropolitan park district fund" and paid out on warrants (RCW 35.61.210).


Annexation

Territory by virtue of its annexation to any city that lies entirely within a park district is deemed to be within the limits of the metropolitan park district (RCW 35.61.020).

The territory adjoining a metropolitan park district may be annexed into the district upon petition and an election (RCW 35.61.250-.280) according to the following process:

  • The petition must define the territory proposed to be annexed and must be signed by 25 registered voters, resident within the territory proposed to be annexed, unless the territory is within the limits of another city, in which case it must be signed by 20 percent of the registered voters residing within the territory proposed to be annexed.
  • A notice of intent regarding a proposed annexation must be filed with the boundary review board, if one has been established in the county (RCW 36.93.090(1)(a)).
  • If the board of park commissioners concur in the petition, they must hold a public hearing, with published notice (RCW 35.61.260).
  • An election is held on the proposed annexation, with the ballot in the form prescribed by RCW 35.61.270.
  • If the majority of the votes cast favor annexation, the territory becomes annexed to the park district (RCW 35.61.280).

Dissolution

A district may be dissolved by a majority vote of its board members. Upon dissolution, the district's liabilities are prorated, and turned over to the city and/or county to the extent the district was respectively located in each, when:

  • Such city and/or county, through its governing officials, agrees to, and petitions for, such dissolution and the assumption of such assets and liabilities, or;
  • Ten percent of the voters of such city and/or county who voted at the last general election petition the governing officials for such a vote. (RCW 35.61.310)
  • Disincorporation of district located in county with a population of 210,000 or more and inactive for five years, see Chapter 57.90 RCW.

Last Modified: April 02, 2021