Sales tax increase for aquatics facility to go before voters

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMay 8, 2013 

A proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for a regional aquatics facility and water park is heading to voters this summer.

The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution placing the tax measure on the August ballot in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick.

The resolution has the caveat that, if election costs exceed $40,000, a board committee can decide the measure should be pulled and re-submitted in the fall. However, the regional board's president said he doesn't expect that to happen.

The board also gave approval to a final design concept and project and operations cost estimates.

The regional board has been calling the project an aquatics center, but members clarified that description Wednesday. The resolution included ballot language describing the project as a regional aquatics facility and water park.

"It has always been more than just a swimming pool. It has always been more than just a water park. It has always been both, and also a year-round facility," said Matt Watkins, president of the regional board. "What that helps do is clarify what we've been talking about all along."

Watkins also is Pasco's mayor.

The conceptual design includes an indoor area -- open year-round -- with a 25-meter-by-25-yard competition pool, warm-up pool, surf simulator, slides, an activity pool, a leisure pool and a river channel. Outdoor elements in the conceptual design include a wave and leisure pool, river channel and slides. Those elements would be available seasonally.

Project costs, including land, construction, equipment and fees and permitting, are estimated to total about $35.3 million. The regional public facilities district would issue sales tax revenue bonds to pay for it, with the debt paid back over time using the sales tax increase.

The sales tax bump would add one penny to a $10 purchase. It's estimated to generate about $3.35 million annually across the three cities.

Officials are budgeting $2.5 million for bond debt payment, $250,000 for administrative costs and an equipment replacement reserve, and $600,000 to cover an operations shortfall, if needed. (An operational cost analysis estimated the shortfall would be $200,000 less than that).

The sales-tax increase needs approval from a majority of the total number of voters in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. If the measure passes, the aquatics facility and water park could open in summer 2015, officials have said.

It would be built on land off Sandifur Parkway in Pasco.

Multiple board members Wednesday emphasized it would be a regional center benefiting the entire Tri-Cities, even though it would be in Pasco.

"There have been a lot of comments ... (saying) that it's all about Pasco," said Steve Young, vice president of the regional board and Kennewick's mayor.

But, "We as three cities are trying to work together to put something out there that's a regional project, not designed for any one specific city, nor either county. It's a project for the citizens of this metropolitan service area," he said.

Also Wednesday, the board approved a resolution providing for the appointments of three members each to the committees that will write the pro and con statements on the tax measure for the voters' pamphlet.

The pro committee includes Terry Allen of Kennewick, Douglas Wertz of Richland and Paul Whitemarsh of Pasco; the con committee includes Victor Epperly of Kennewick, Jerry Martin of Kennewick and Richard Weiss of Pasco.

The board recommended those six at a meeting in April, and the city councils in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick later confirmed the choices.

The regional public facilities district has launched a website with more information about the aquatics proposal at www.tcpfd.org.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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