Our Voice: Despite rejection of aquatic center, vote says good things about community

August 9, 2013 

The fact that the aquatic center failed at the ballot box is a side note to the story of success in the Mid-Columbia this week.

Although voters rejected the measure, the three cities of Pasco, Kennewick and Richland at least were able to come together to give voters the opportunity to consider a project too big for any one city to take on.

We see it as a huge step forward.

And it's noteworthy.

This is the first time a regional facility of this kind has even been attempted. Getting it to the ballot demanded a coordinated effort that in the past would have been all but impossible.

We're thrilled that the leaders of the three cities have been able to put away long-held parochialism and send a truly regional project to the voters.

And despite the "no" votes, we are not ready to give up.

It would be helpful to know more about this particular measure's failure. What messages are the voters sending? Are they saying don't build an aquatic center? Or don't build this aquatic center? Or don't build it there?

We understand this is not a scientific conclusion, but comments excerpted from letters to the editor from people who were voting against the proposal include the arguments that it was too big, too small, too expensive, not expensive enough, an inappropriate use of tax money and in Pasco.

Of those arguments, we have to wonder how much weight the last one carries. Is the community still so divided that Benton County voters would vote against the aquatic center because it was on the Franklin County side of the river?

We hate to think that may be true, but if the results from Benton County had mirrored the ones in Franklin County, we would be swimming in the new facility in 2015.

We also wonder how much traction each of the other arguments carries.

Do voters really want to tax themselves twice as much and put covers over the three municipal pools that already exist, as Kennewick citizen Vic Epperly is suggesting?

Or are there enough voters who will always say no to every tax increase?

We suspect voter apathy has something to do with it. Tens of thousands of ballots didn't even come back. Benton County mailed out 67,914 ballots to voters in the regional PFD and only 33 percent of them were returned. Franklin County issued 22,680 ballots and also only recorded a 33 percent turnout.

Did the other 70,000 voters have no opinion on the matter?

We are certain the presenters of the proposal will be examining election results in the coming weeks.

At this point, we thank the regional PFD board members for their efforts and thoughtful work.

And we urge them stay the course.

We don't know what to make of the rejection, but we definitely think it's worth another shot.

Regroup. Tweak it. Try again.

Or shoot for another target.

The important thing here is to maintain the ground we have won in working toward regional solutions. Then inch (or dive) forward.

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