Regional PFD board hopes voters will pass tax increase

Now that they have selected an aquatics center as their first choice for a project, members of the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District are looking at how to convince voters to approve the sales tax increase to pay for it.

The board met for just under an hour Wednesday in Pasco and talked about starting a website with frequently asked questions about the project.

"The sooner we start on education and selling this project ... is the best way to go forward and get this thing passed," said Kennewick City Councilman Don Britain, who sits on the regional district's board.

First on the list is explaining to Tri-Citians that they will in fact get to vote on the tax and that it won't be imposed on them by a board vote.

Pasco City Council members Saul Martinez and Rebecca Francik, who also serve on the regional district's board, said they have received emails and had conversations with Pascoresidents that indicate the public has some misperceptions about the0.1 percent sales tax increase the district has agreed to put on the ballot.

State law allows the regional district to seek up to a 0.2 percent increase in sales tax, but the board in June opted for the lower amount, which is estimated to bring in$39.5 million over the next 25 years.

By selecting the lower amount, it leaves 0.1 percent available for future projects, or allows, for example, the Kennewick Public Facilities District to seek its own 0.1 percent sales tax measure to pay for new exhibit hall space at the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The board took the next step in June of identifying which of four projects it wanted to spend the money on, and the $35 million aquatics center proposal floated to the top.

The board also considered a $36 million performing arts center, $14.5 million to help build the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and $15 million for the convention center exhibit hall.

Britain noted that as well as being unclear about how the sales tax increase would work, Tri-Citians also seem confused about the aquatics center concept.

"There seems to be a difference of opinion on a water park versus an aquatic center," Britain said. "This is going to be a challenge for us that there's a difference between the two."

Residents may be experiencing some confusion because several private developers have proposed building water parks in the Tri-Cities over the past few years, but none of those plans have come to fruition.

Those water parks would have been more like amusement parks with outdoor water slides and play areas, whereas the aquatics center proposal also would include a 25-meter indoor pool for competitive events or lap swimming.

Richland Mayor John Fox, who sits on the regional board, said a lot of questions remain about the aquatics center proposal, and he thinks the regional district needs more specifics from the Pasco Public Facilities District, which is developing the aquatics center plan, before an information campaign can be laid out.

The Pasco Public Facilities District board also met Wednesday and is in ongoing negotiations with Franklin County to take over ownership of TRAC.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com