The Tri-Cities regional community is at another decision point with respect to how we get needed facilities built for our region. What facilities am I talking about? I would put a priority on a free-standing performing arts complex somewhere in the Tri-Cities and indoor aquatic centers in each of our cities.
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The decision boils down to which public facilities district organization is best suited to fund these multiple projects with a voter-approved sales tax?
Is it a city public facilities district, like the Kennewick Public Facilities District that wanted to expand the convention center? Or the Pasco Public Facilities District that wants to build an aquatics center just in Pasco? Or, should it be the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District that has been unable to get its hands around a scope of work that the entire region can support?
This is not an easy question to answer because the Pasco PFD can’t do an aquatics center under current state law. Whereas the Regional PFD can build one or more aquatics centers. On the other hand, the Regional PFD has not lived up to its potential because of constraints imposed upon it by the state law that provided for its formation.
So which approach is the best? Which part of state law do you change? Do you support the Pasco PFD approach, or do you support the Regional PFD approach? I favor fixing the state law to improve the functionality of the Regional PFD. Why? Because this approach is the only path by which a regional performing arts facility will be built, and the most likely way to get an indoor aquatics center in each of our cities.
Why not let each entity do its own thing? There’s another quirk in the state law that will prevent that from being a viable option.
Currently, state law says that the combined total sales tax a regional PFD and city PFDs within its boundary can levy is two-tenths of 1 percent (20 cents on $10). If a city PFD, such as the Pasco PFD, levies the full 0.2 percent sales tax, then the regional PFD cannot levy any sales tax.
The same would occur if the Tri-Cities Regional PFD levied the full 0.2 percent sales tax; then none of the city PFDs could levy a sales tax. The Tri-Cities Regional PFD is the only agency that can levy a voter-approved sales tax across the three cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
So, what needs to be changed in the state law to make the Tri-Cities Regional PFD a functioning entity?
First, the composition of the board of directors needs to be changed. Currently, the board is made up of three city council members or city PFD board members from Kennewick, Pasco and Richland. It should be changed so that the city councils appoint citizens who are not city council members or city PFD board members. Hopefully, this will change the focus from “what’s in it for my PFD” to “what’s a strategic plan that benefits all the citizens of all three cities.”
Second, the requirement that a ballot measure must be approved by two of the three representatives from each city must be removed. Under current law, two people from one jurisdiction can block the action of a nine-member board.
Third, delete the requirement that each and every project has to be approved by the voters. If the board formulates a multi-project plan that is acceptable to the voters, why impose the burden of separate elections for each project? It’s costly to do and makes it very difficult to execute a multi-project plan.
Finally, under current state law, a public facilities district is not allowed to seek voter input through an advisory ballot. The law needs to be changed so that the Tri-Cities Regional PFD can have this tool to work with.
These ideas are being discussed with our local state legislators. Expressing your thoughts to them will hopefully make for a good bill that will benefit the Tri-Cities.
Vic Epperly and his wife have lived in Kennewick since 1972. He worked for 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.