A proposed aquatic center in Pasco could dry up before the project even becomes official if the Legislature doesn’t change state law.
The Pasco Public Facilities District board has a concept to allow people to swim throughout the year, while offering dry options like a weight room, elevated track and small gym.
Board members haven’t decided if they want to recommend the city council ask Pasco voters to support a tax-subsidized public facility. They’re still trying to fine tune the now $26 million project and get a sense of whether it would be successful, both at the ballot box and in operating long term.
While working through the kinks over the last several months and consulting with city attorneys, officials discovered a problem for them in Washington law regarding public facilities districts.
The law says city public facilities districts can finance, construct, own and operate regional centers, such as a convention center, special event center or a combination of the two. A special event center is available to the public for trade shows, performing arts and sporting events.
The problem is a recreational facility does not fit into the categories.
House Bill 1321, introduced earlier this month, proposes a tweak to give city public facilities districts the same authorization as county and regional districts.
The bill is next scheduled for an executive session at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the House Committee on Local Government. It is sponsored by Reps. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac.
“It’s a very simple fix: just make them all the same,” said Stan Strebel, Pasco’s deputy city manager. “Without this fix we have to come up with another plan. The PFD authority to levy sales tax is unavailable for this particular project.”
The legislative fix is just one item on Pasco board’s agenda for 6 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be in Pasco City Hall’s council chambers, 525 N. Third Ave.
Park & Recreation Advisory Board members Nolvia Salinas and Jason Ruud and city councilmembers Rebecca Francik, Chi Flores and Mayor Matt Watkins have been designated to serve as committee members on the project.
“It helps to bring that city council perspective to the project early on so it has the maximum chance of success,” Strebel told the Herald. “Then councilmembers can share with fellow council members and make sure the proposal has the maximum chance of support if, and when, it finally gets to the full city council.”
During the joint meeting, they will discuss the updated feasibility study that was prepared by consultants, operational costs, funding alternatives and the possibility of doing public or private partnerships.
Board members are calling their preferred plan Option D. It includes outdoor aquatics, a 4,000-square-foot indoor leisure/program pool, the fitness room, track, middle school-sized gym, a babysitting space and concessions. They’ve added a 60-percent, 1,080-square-foot community room, which would help replace the city’s senior center.
The study suggests that with the proposed configuration and amenities, the city is looking at roughly $2.5 million in expenses and about $2 million in revenue, leaving a nearly $500,000 shortfall. Board members and city officials have to figure out how to close that gap, or if it’s even acceptable in such a facility, Strebel said.
The maximum debt that the Pasco PFD council incur for a facility is $20 million. That is assuming state legislators make the change in law so the PFD can create a recreational facility.
Pasco voters would need to approve an increase in the city sales tax to support the facility and pay for the debt service associated with the $20 million.
The city’s taxable sales in 2015 was $1.125. If a two-tenth of 1 percent sales tax were to be levied, it could generate $2.2 million to be used for the facility, Strebel explained.
The additional $6 million would likely have to come through a city general obligation bond, which also requires voter approval.
Strebel said it has been nearly 20 years since the city last asked its residents to approve a general obligation bond. It was for a new fire station and improvements to the city library, and Pasco at the time had a population of about 29,000.
Pasco now is close to 75,000 residents, and property owners currently aren’t paying for city bonded debt since those bonds have been paid off, he said. The city could package a possible bond to include another new fire station and other projects, along with the aquatic and recreation center.