Tuesday's resounding defeat for a property tax hike to fund a new aquatic center in Walla Walla felt more like a referendum on taxes than on whether the facility is needed for the community.
This was the third time an aquatic center was on the ballot over the past seven years. More than 50 percent of voters supported the first two proposals but a 60 percent majority was required for passage.
After each of the first two defeats the major concern from voters appeared to be the scope of the project. Still, over half of those casting ballots supported the idea.
The plan brought before voters this month took into consideration previous concerns. It was scaled back a bit. In addition, the plan was to make the facility's operation self-sustaining, meaning the gate fees would fund day-to-day operations and also put cash in reserve to be used for maintenance and future upgrades.
And since the measure was structured as a levy rather than a bond, only a simple majority was needed for approval.
Thud! Just 41 percent of voters supported the project.
We believe the resounding "no" had as much -- or more -- to do with voters feeling overtaxed than the merits of the aquatic center project.
Walla Walla voters have been willing to fund projects for the public good. Over the past few years, for example, they approved funding for new police and fire stations, road improvements and to keep the Valley Transit bus system running.
But as the community debated the aquatic center, the issue of affordability was often the main focus. Many expressed the view in conversations around town -- or in the letters to the editor section and comments on the Internet -- that they felt taxed out. Adding another 50 cents per $1,000 of a homes value ($100 for a $200,000 house) was just too much. Folks also thought the suggested admission fee ($7.50 for adults and $5 kids) was too high for families.
The lingering effects of the Great Recession played a role, but the taxpayer angst has seeds with the seemingly frequent requests for funding. The aquatic center might have been that proverbial straw sending the camel to the chiropractor.
The takeaway message from last week's election might be this: Voters are feeling taxed out.
This is something leaders of local governments must keep in mind as they plan for future building. Voters' tolerance for big projects seems small and the need is going to have to be clearly demonstrated.