The Kennewick Public Facilities District’s proposal to fund expansion of the convention center failed in the August primary election.
Most people can understand the frustration and disappointment supporters of the project must feel. The same goes for the supporters of the failed Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District’s aquatics center project. There are challenges for those who want a performing arts facility and those who want the Reach center to overcome its financial challenges. Is there a way that we can address these challenges, frustrations and disappointments?
It may be best to look at what role the regional PFD can play. The regional district is the only area-wide jurisdiction that is supported by the three major cities that has the potential to address the need for multiple regional projects. It is the only agency that can levy a voter-approved sales tax throughout the region, as compared to a city PFD levying a sales tax just in one city. The challenge for the regional PFD is to convince the community that it is a viable organization that has a plan to do multiple regional projects, and that it can gain voter support to do so.
We need to urge the regional district board to seek citizen involvement in the decision-making process, perhaps by forming a citizen advisory committee to consider options and make a recommendation to the board. Having said that, an advisory board needs to consider what has been learned by the previous PFD ballot measures, as well as the results of the 2008 community survey that was done by the regional district. Though the survey was oriented toward single-purpose and single-site projects, the most popular preference was aquatics, followed by a performing arts facility. Unfortunately, the regional district’s single-site aquatics center passed in Pasco, where it was to be located, but failed in Richland and Kennewick.
One approach an advisory committee might take a look at is the aquatics option. Unlike the proposal three years ago that had an aquatics facility in one city, why not put one in each city?
It’s a sad statistic for the region, but there was more municipal pool space in 1950 than there is now, yet our population has more than quadrupled. Putting an aquatics facility in each city gives cause for the voters in each city to vote for the measure. It may not take the entire 0.2 of 1 percent sales tax to accomplish this objective. The regional district and the advisory committee could work with each city to define the scope of work to be done in each jurisdiction, but having a common goal to provide an indoor aquatics facility that has water activities as well as a 25-meter lap tank.
With this approach, each city and school district would get a year-round indoor pool anchoring a community center. Each city would acquire a facility that would potentially have minimal impact on current operating budgets, because the regional district sales tax revenue could be used to cover some of the operating cost as well as construction cost. Having an indoor pool in each school district also provides the districts with the opportunity to provide swim programs and share in providing operating funding.
The Pasco PFD’s proposal of a $20-million facility can be viewed as affirming that an aquatics facility could be built in each city well within the financial capability of the regional district. Instead of a bare-bones facility that is limited by the bond capacity of the Pasco PFD, aquatic facilities in all three cities could be more complete with a budget between $25 million and $30 million.
Unlike the city PFDs, whose focus is on a single project, the regional district sales tax revenue can be used for multiple projects besides just the aquatics centers. On an ongoing basis, as sales tax revenues rises, when revenue exceeds expenses for these aquatic centers and when the revenue bonds for the aquatics centers are paid off, there would be funds available to do a second round of projects. This could be done with no increase in the sales tax rate.
As envisioned herein, each city would get an aquatics center with the first round of projects. With the second round, each city would get another ‘regional center’ project within its boundaries. Richland could get financial support and expansion of the Reach center, Kennewick could get expansion of the convention center and Pasco could get the performing arts facility.
The approach as outlined would provide a long term benefit to the entire regional community and provide a source of funds to support the projects the city PFDs want to see accomplished. Each city would get an aquatics center and each city would get a regional center project. All the entertainment venues do not need to be at Vista Field in Kennewick. Everyone gets a piece of the pie. It’s a win-win for everyone.
We need to urge the regional district board of directors to engage the community, perhaps through a citizens’ advisory committee. They need to set its sights on a long term plan for the organization, otherwise there is no reason for the organization to exist. The regional district needs to move forward quickly, otherwise there would be no reason for Pasco and its PFD not to move forward on their own aquatics center and take away the regional district’s ability to levy a regional sales tax.
Vic Epperly and his wife have lived in Kennewick since 1972. He worked 32 years as a facilities engineer for Battelle before retiring 11 years ago. In the 1980s he served on the Kennewick City Council for 61/2 years and was mayor of Kennewick in 1986-87.