Tri-City PFD yet to decide whether to send aquatics center to voters

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 10, 2013 

The regional board charged with pursuing a public project didn't make a decision Wednesday about sending an aquatics center proposal to Tri-City voters.

But the nine-member board appeared far closer to making the call after the almost two-hour meeting. A special session was set for Jan. 23, and several members said they'd be ready to decide by then.

The proposed aquatics center is "a massive project of many millions of dollars" and board members need to be "as reasonably comfortable with our decisions as possible," said Matt Watkins, president of the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board.

He said he'll be ready and hopes "we're all ready to make a vote at the next meeting."

Watkins also is Pasco's mayor.

The aquatics center project is dependent on voters in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland agreeing to a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase to cover costs. A measure could appear on the ballot in August or November.

Board members spent much of Wednesday's meeting talking about details yet to be worked out -- from which month would be better for an election to the term of the proposed tax increase.

Vice President Steve Young, who's also Kennewick's mayor, asked for a meeting of the board's project committee to hash out some details, including the roles and responsibilities of the entities involved in the aquatics center project.

"You've got three cities, three (city public facility districts), a regional public facilities district," he told the Herald after the meeting. "I don't want to move forward until I know what role we're going to play."

That meeting will happen next week.

When the full board meets Jan. 23, it could prove to be a watershed moment in the long saga to bring an aquatics center to the Tri-City area -- a saga that's involved both public and private efforts over the years.

The regional board was established a couple years ago and has been working to settle on a project to present to voters. Last summer, it picked an aquatics center as its first choice.

But the proposal was thrown into limbo after the planned location for the $35 million facility -- TRAC in Pasco -- fell through. Pasco officials since have come up with an alternative site -- property near the Broadmoor Park Outlet Mall.

The Pasco City Council in December agreed to buy the land. On Wednesday, Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield reminded the board that the purchase agreement calls for a $60,000 payment in February.

"Before the city sends a $60,000 check off to the seller, it would be good for the city to know whether the regional (public facilities district) is, frankly, committed to at least putting the aquatics center on the ballot this year," Crutchfield said.

One longtime aquatics center proponent told board members Wednesday that he was disappointed they didn't move forward. "Let's get on with it. Take the vote," Randy Willis said during the time set aside for public comment, adding it's "time to move on" in the process.

Some board members said they also were disappointed a decision was delayed. But others said they weren't ready and wanted the extra two weeks.

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