The state Legislature’s failure to act on a bill that would help Pasco move forward with an aquatic facility has left the project’s board members treading water until the 2018 session.
Mark Morrissette, president of the Pasco Public Facilities District board, suggested this week they take “a little break” and see how they want to proceed over the next year.
There are “micro considerations that go into addressing this macro question,” said Morrissette, adding that the proposal “got bigger than what we were hoping for.”
He addressed the project’s status during a joint meeting with two Park & Recreation Advisory Board members and three City Council members.
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The PFD board in early 2016 renewed talks about building a tax-subsidized public swimming pool and water park with an attached multi-use center.
That decision followed the failures of a 2008 Pasco bond and a 2013 regional ballot measure. Board members saw a glimmer of hope in the fact that Pasco votes topped 50 percent for the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase effort, while Kennewick and Richland voters rejected it.
Then city attorneys discovered an oversight in Washington law that allows county and regional public facilities districts to finance, construct, own and operate a recreational center, but doesn’t give the same authorization to city districts.
An aquatic facility would fall in the category of a recreational center.
Substitute House Bill 1321 sought to fix the state law so Pasco could put a proposed aquatic facility before the voters. It also clarified that any type of attached recreational center with fitness equipment and community event space would be the city’s financial responsibility.
The legislation passed out of the state House and then stalled in a Senate committee in mid-March.
While the Legislature is now in a special session, the focus is on passing a state budget.
PFD board member Craig Maloney said they need to make sure to focus on the need at hand, including the committee’s fate being decided through the democratic process.
“We absolutely need to make sure that our voters understand and support the project. However, that is not currently our stopping point,” he said. “We are stopped due to political issues in the Senate.”
The board envisioned a $26 million plan with outdoor aquatics, a 4,000-square-foot indoor leisure/program pool, a fitness room, track, middle school-sized gym and baby-sitting space and concessions.
Though it is a Pasco PFD project, it ultimately is up to the city council to ask Pasco voters to support a tax-subsidized public facility.
The maximum debt that the public facilities district can incur for a facility is $20 million. Voters would need to approve an increase in the city sales tax. That means any costs above $20 million might have to go on a Pasco general obligation bond, along with additional city projects.
Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel said Morrissette is scheduled to give his annual board update to the Pasco City Council on May 8. The aquatic facility will be a big part of that discussion, with possible input from council members.
Then, members will try to meet with area legislators and lobbyists in the fall about the next session and what needs to be done so their legislative priorities are met with success.