Pasco’s aquatic center bill heads to Gov. Inslee. Here are 5 things you should know

Aquatics center may still float with Pasco vote

Pasco voters could soon have the chance to tax themselves to build a regional aquatics center.
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Pasco voters could soon have the chance to tax themselves to build a regional aquatics center.

Pasco voters could soon get the chance to vote on building a regional aquatics center.

It took three sessions of the state Legislature, but a “vote-to-float” bill authorizing the plan is now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

House Bill 1499 adds aquatics centers to the list of facilities that can be built by local public facilities districts with local voter approval.

Here’s key things to know about the issue:

  1. Aquatics vote: In 2013, voters across the Tri-Cities rejected an ambitious $35 million plan to build a competition pool, surf simulator, zero-depth entry pool, current channel and slide tower on Sandifur Parkway in Pasco.
  2. Pasco support: Although the measure failed, support was strong in Pasco, where 57 percent of voters said Yes to a one-tenth of a percent sales tax request to pay for it. So, Pasco decided to move ahead on the idea on its own. But the Legislature needed to change state law to include aquatics centers on the list of amenities a local public facilities district can build and operate. Changing state law has been the city’s top legislative priority for three years.
  3. Legislature fight: State Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, introduced legislation in 2017, 2018 and 2019. HB 1499 passed the House in March, but ran into headwinds in the Senate. After several setbacks, a version passed Thursday, despite opposition from three Mid-Columbia Republicans — Sens. Sharon Brown of Kennewick, Jim Honeyford of Yakima and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville. Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins has written to the governor requesting he sign the bill. Aids think it could happen next week.
  4. Next step: If the bill is signed, the Pasco Public Facilities District will develop a vision for an aquatics park for an undetermined location, likely in the Broadmoor/Road 100 area. The public facilities district board will recommend a package, including a possible sales tax of one-tenth of a percent (1 cent per $10 purchase) or two-tenths of a percent, to the city council. The council will decide if or when to put the request on the ballot.
  5. Vote to float: If a majority of Pasco voters say Yes, the facilities district will issue bonds to build a facility, using the new sales tax money to repay the bonds and to fund reserves and other costs. A one-tenth of a percent would have raised an estimated $1.4 million in 2018.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.