Fast Focus: Indoor pools in each city would be better

July 12, 2013 

On July 7, the Herald’s In Focus column was titled “Aquatic Center will measure our cooperation,” written by the mayors of the three cities.

The piece focused on two themes. The first was a description of the ballot measure for the Aug. 6 primary election concerning a sales tax to fund construction of a regional aquatics facility and water park. The second was a historical perspective about the joint cooperative effort by the cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland to form the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District (TCRPFD) and how that organization arrived at putting the water park on the ballot.

With regards to the TCRPFD, the city councils should be commended for having formed it. There is no doubt that it has the potential to serve some needs of the community for a long time. However, just because the TCRPFD was formed, doesn’t mean that the proposed water park is the best way to meet the municipal pool needs of the Tri-Cities community.

Our population has doubled since 1990, yet no new municipal pool space has been built since the 1960s. Instead of building new facilities, our cities are either closing pools or downsizing them during renovation. Of the 25 largest cities in Washington, only three — Kennewick, Pasco and Richland — do not have access to indoor municipal pools.

So how does a water park in a single location satisfy the need for municipal pool space in all three cities? It doesn’t. Further, our cities have no plans to build new facilities in the next five years, yet they all have official documents that say pool space is needed. One of the few viable means by which we can expect to see pool capacity increased in all of our cities is by using the TCRPFD to fund conversion of the existing municipal pools into year round aquatic centers. This approach not only will provide the capital funds to do the conversions, but also provide operating funds to operate and maintain the facilities.

With this approach, all the city park and recreation departments can extend their swim programs to run year round in each city. In addition, because a year-round pool facility would be in each school district, the school systems could also provide swim programs for students. We would all benefit.

The group of citizens that wrote the con statement for the voters’ pamphlet urges you to become informed. Look for Resolution 2013-02 on the official web page for the TCRPFD — Read Section 3 (c) to see how the funds can be spent. Do you see anything about a regional aquatic facility and water park? No. What you do see is that the funds can be used by the TCRPFD for any of ‘its public facilities.’ Why didn’t the TCRPFD explain this to us in the ballot caption, in the explanation of the ballot proposition or in their fact sheet?

Further, we know school operating levies have a limited life -- usually two years. General obligation bonds for libraries or school buildings, etc. also have a limited life. The tax goes away when the bonds are paid off. This is not the case for the proposed 0.1 of 1 percent sales tax. It’s permanent, even after the revenue bonds for constructing the water park are paid off. The TCRPFD seems to assume we know this.

The group that wrote the con statement also believes a water park is something for the private sector to build, not something to build with your tax dollars. If a water park is built privately, the improved property stays on the tax rolls. Upgrading the existing municipal pools would be done on existing public lands.

The question for the community, our local city officials, and the TCRPFD Board of Directors will be, if the voters reject the present proposition for funding a water park, what will they all do to respond to the outcome? Will they act quickly to follow through with the multi-city municipal pool conversion approach? I hope so. All our cities need year round, affordable and safe public swim space. Let’s all act to make it happen.

Vic Epperly is a former Kennewick councilmember and served on the committee that wrote the con statement for the aquatics center measure on the August ballot.

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