The Kennewick Public Facilities District wants voter approval to levy a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax in Kennewick to fund expansion of the Three Rivers Campus. Consider voting against the measure. This project is primarily designed to expand the convention center. The voters already rejected that idea three years ago. Now they want to double the proposed sales tax rate increase to do much the same thing.
Why raise the sales tax rate in the first place? Kennewick acquired the Toyota Center without raising taxes. The Kennewick Public Facilities District built the Three Rivers Convention Center without raising the sales tax rate. Surely there are other ways to expand the convention center without raising the sales tax rate.
The description of the project as reported in the media conjures up an image, but does that image convey what actually is planned, and does that plan meet with your expectations? For example, it states that part of the project will be dedicated space for a relocated Windermere Theatre, space suitable for the Best of Broadway shows. Will it be like the Spokane Opera House or the Capitol Theatre in Yakima? No.
As we know, the current Windermere Theatre is a temporary conversion of the Toyota Center that occurs each time there is a show that requires a stage. In the proposed project, there would be a permanent stage with an orchestra pit and back stage areas. But what about seating? Only about 300 seats will be permanent fixed seats in a theater setting. Two thousand seats will be on a nested set of rollaway platforms, much like you see in a gymnasium. However, instead of sitting on a bleacher bench, you will be sitting in an upholstered seat. In other words, because the seats can be rolled up against a wall, the space is designed primarily for a large open convention meeting room. The fixed seating area can be partitioned off into a small break-out room at the convention center as well. This is really a make-do performing arts facility. Voting for the expansion will only postpone getting a permanent performing arts facility.
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In a recent article in the paper, we learned the city has been well aware of the parking problem at the Toyota Center. Do they have plans to fix it? Not exactly. Solving the existing parking problem is being held hostage to getting voter approval of the sales tax increase to expand the convention center. So where’s the new parking going to go, anyway, when events are held concurrently in the convention center, along with a hockey game at the Toyota Center, and a show in the new 2,300-seat Windermere Theatre? Is the city just going to pave over places where overflow parking already occurs? Is the city even complying with its own building ordinance with respect to providing adequate off-street parking?
Finally, one should be very vigilant of how your tax dollars will be spent. We are told in the ballot measure that the sales tax increase would be used “to fund the expansion and improvements of the Three Rivers Campus. The tax would sunset upon repayment of the bonds in 20 years.” What happens with all the sales tax revenue that exceeds the need to repay the bonds? A revenue bond will have level principal and interest payments, yet the sales tax revenue is likely to increase with inflation and business growth in Kennewick.
What happens if the cost of the project that has been described to the voters as The Link exceeds the funds that can be raised with the sales tax increase? If the scope of work changes either way from what has been described to the voters, can the tax still be levied?
We are being left with a lot of unanswered questions. My suggestion is if in doubt, vote no.
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 6 1/2 years and was mayor of Kennewick in 1986-87.