Sides spell out positions on Aquatics Center

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WALLA WALLA - A 50-cents per thousand property tax increase has voters debating whether the city should build two water slides, a lazy river, a splash pad and a wave pool, the last of which will also serve as an outdoor 25-meter lap pool for what one day could be the Walla Walla Aquatics Center.

According to the U.S. Census, the median home value for Walla Walla is $182,200. So if the tax is approved, the average home owner will pay an additional $91 in property taxes for nine years to pay for the $8.7 million project.

Officials also said it would be the first time a voter-approved levy lid lift was used by the city to pay for a capital improvement project.

The proposed Aquatics Center would be located at what is now the defunct Memorial Pool.

The pool was closed several years ago because it was receiving extremely low attendance, operated in the red and City Council couldn't justify a number of costly repairs.

Proponents and many opponents of the Aquatics Center levy lid lift have at least one thing in common, both want to replace Memorial Pool.

But how big should the new facility be?

What should it include?

How much should it cost?

And what mechanism should be used to pay for it?

Proponents of the Aquatics Center include the city and the Walla Walla Water Works Committee.

Opponents, while not officially organized into a group, have been almost as vocal, as can be attested to in the numerous letters sent by them to the Union-Bulletin.

In recent interviews conducted by the Union-Bulletin, here are what proponents and opponents had to say about the proposed Walla Walla Aquatics Center.

Is it too costly or right on the money?

OPPONENT: "$8 million and you don't have a swimming pool. They keep trying to tell you that the wave pool can be turned off and you have four lanes you can swim in, but in my mind it is ridiculous, I think that you would spend $8 million and not have a swimming pool." - Griff Killgrove

PROPONENT: "My argument would be is we have to build it large enough so it will accommodate 300 to 400 or a greater maximum because that is how it will sustain itself. If we build a small pool and piddly slide, people won't come to use it." - James McCarthy of the Walla Walla Water Works Committee.

Will it operate in the black or red?

PROPONENT: "I would say the numbers have been vetted by people who don't take spread sheets lightly. We have had builders. We have had Sherwood (Trust) ... We have used comparable numbers from Pendleton and Clarkston. And if the numbers aren't quite right, there is a reserve built in ... am I comfortable with the numbers? Sure. But like with anything, it is up to scrutiny." - James McCarthy.

OPPONENT: "I just don't know how financially feasible it is. If it was 100 percent guaranteed with everything the committee said, well then a private investor would come in and do it. And a private investor won't touch it. Pool facilities are risky. It all depends on the weather." - Patricia Wilson

Is the design appropriate?

OPPONENT: "They were trying to describe it as this great Aquatics Center for the family. At the meeting I went to, a water park is what it was. And I feel the voting public has a right to now what they are voting for." - Patricia Wilson.

PROPONENT: "Frankly, the people who are going to swim laps are not the people who will spend all day at the pool. And the people who are going to make it self-sustaining are the people who will stay there with their kids. They need a place that is fun, safe and clean, where they can hang out all day in the heat of the summertime." - Jennifer Northam of the Walla Walla Water Works Committee.

Why a levy lid lift?

PROPONENT: Members of Walla Walla Water Works deferred to the city to answer this issue. City officials responded they have several good reasons for using a levy lid instead of a general obligation bond. Interest rates are extremely low. A levy will allow the city to obtain a 2.24 percent interest rate over nine years, while the bond would incur a 3.34 percent interest rate over 20 years. The savings in interest alone is estimated at $2 million. City officials said they also have $1 million in private donations from the Sherwood Trust, the Stubblefield Trust and an anonymous donor, but only if the Aquatics Center is approved by voters. Finally, a bond requires a super majority while a levy lid lift requires a simple majority. "Saving $2 million in interest is a big number. Receiving $1 million in gifts is a big number. When you take both of those numbers it is a huge cost reduction to the project." - Jim Dumont, Parks and Recreation director.

OPPONENT: "They did the city fire station with a bond, and they did the city police station with a bond. And, realistically, if you look at the dollar value it is the same thing as those two issues ... Eight million bucks and now they are going to switch it over to a levy? It doesn't smell right in that respect. I am not saying there is anything wrong, it just doesn't feel right, which is unfortunate because I really want to see an Aquatics Center here in Walla Walla." - Chuck Streamer.

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