Walla Walla voters not in mood for new taxes

The resounding defeat of the aquatic center levy might have been triggered by feelings of being overtaxed.

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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.

Comments

bluedevilcfmy 2 years ago

3 people voted in my home- all of us voted NO, and it had nothing to do with a tax increase. here's why: 1- there was NO pool 2-the city council would determin admission. The city council would have a hard time figuring out how to spend five dollars at the dollar store. 3-the committe had the nerve / audascity to name the aquatic center...Walla Walla Water Works? Really? Did the people paying for it not have any say? 4-it would be a glorified daycare center. Self explanatory 5-WAVE pools are dangerous. 6 and finally, the city of WW allowed Memorial Pool to go to waste when 40k could have fixed it years ago....saying in essence it would not be worth it. Move on WW Water works people. Or pay for it yourself.

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Chas 2 years ago

Our government at every level when faced with tough budget decisions almost always let maintenance be the first to go. They could not keep Memorial Pool adequately serviced, nor replace failed equipment, so they depreciated its value and wrote it off. A water-park, with all the additional complexity, would seem to need a full-time, with probably a part-time, all-round: plumber/electrician/hydraulic engineer. I just don't see the City hiring a well-qualified maintenance staff for a seasonal position. Our City water supply is on a one hundred year replacement schedule? When that fails people will quite likely die. Keep a sense of perspective and priorities straight!

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RetiredinWW 2 years ago

There was an interesting article in the Tri-City Herald today regarding the pools in Pasco. They have several, and all are in need of serious maintenance or they face closure. I found the cost-per-visit figures interesting. Seems that WW is not the only city with pool issues and not enough cash to fix them.

See:

http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/08/14/2061937/pasco-city-council-mulls-if-replacing.html

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