Ex-Kingdome rental car taxes head to youth, amateur sports

It’s been more than 15 years since Seattle said goodbye to the Kingdome. It’s been more than 20 since King County had to commit more than $50 million to repairing the domed stadium’s failing roof. 

This year, the county fully retired its debt on the long-since departed facility. Since 1993, approximately 75 percent of the one-percent car rental tax collected went to service that debt. The other 25 percent had been collected to fund the Youth Sports Facilities Grants Program. 

But because of the retirement of the Kingdome bonds, that 75 percent was freed up 

This year, all of the rental car tax collected this year will be allocated to youth or amateur sports activities or facilities. 

The council voted to rename the program the Youth and Amateur Sports Fund, in essence removing the previous funding categories and replacing them with a blanket commitment to those sports activities.  

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who represents District Four (of which Queen Anne & Magnolia are a part of), said there was a unique opportunity to fund these projects that came with the retirement of the debt. 

“The County’s not flush with money, at all … but this was just an unusual one-time ability to do this,” she said. 

Kohl-Welles said it was Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski (District 1), who had examined state law on rental car taxes in regards to funding these projects. 

“Now the revenue that’s still being collected can go to more projects,” she said. “So the amount of money going into the sports funding for youth was increased.”

But the fund goes beyond merely redirecting the rental tax. 

“What came up in looking at that, Councilmember Dembowski realized that the state law allowed for debt issuance for these same uses, for youth and amateur sports funding,” she said. “So what we did was made the decision to actually do that, to take out bonds for this purpose.”

While much of the funding was initially looked at for other areas of the county, Kohl-Welles and other councilmembers noted the opportunities in their own districts. 

“I had brought up that in the fourth council district, there’s a real dearth of playgrounds and sports fields,” she said. 

However, there wasn’t much time to wrangle the potential projects. 

“We had a big rush to get these places,” Kohl-Welles said. 

In the course of about 24 hours, Kohl-Welles’s staff, including chief of staff Adam Cooper, made calls to the various groups they believed could use the funding. 

“[This was] to the point that I’m calling people and saying, ‘Hey, sorry, I don’t have a whole lot of details, and I don’t have a lot of time, but here’s what the deal is,” Cooper said. “Would you like some money? … To the point that one person actually hung up.”

That was a much different process compared to how requests for funding typically go. In fact, during the budget process, a funding report was made to the council, regarding a request for proposals (RFP) that had been issued. Out of the recommendations made by an advisory group, only one project was located in district four. 

“It seemed like there wasn’t a good disbursement of these projects throughout the county,” she said. 

Suddenly, it was the council reaching out to organizations to see if a need could be filled. 

“It wasn’t like, here’s an RFP, send in your thoughts and we’ll pick the best ones, it was, district by district, people making calls as best they could to see,” Cooper said.

Among the organizations receiving money through the fund are the Queen Anne Community Center, which will get $20,000 for gym improvements and equipment. 

Smith Cove Park will receive $250,000 for soccer field renovations to improve drainage. 

The Queen Anne Pool could also see some of the money allocated to Seattle Parks & Recreation, which received $110,000 for facility improvements to Northwest Seattle pools. 

Other District 4 entities receiving funding include the Boys & Girls Clubs in Wallingford and North Seattle, the Pike Place, Greenwood, and Ballard Senior Centers, and the Center for Wooden Boats. The amounts range anywhere from $5,000, for fitness programs at the Greenwood Senior Center, to $150,000 to the Phinney Neighborhood Association for substantial public playground improvements, to $250,000 for Smith Cove. 

Approximately $1.2 million was directed to organizations and facilities in the district for recreation and amateur sports. 

In particular, Kohl-Welles noted how the money allocated to senior centers lessens the burden when it comes to funding other programs.

“If the way we could [help them] was through exercise mats and fitness programming, that helps them overall, for what they’re able to do, because they don’t have to take money from their providing lunches and breakfasts.”

For the full list of projects funded in District Four, visit www.kingcounty.gov/council/kohl-welles.aspx.

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