If approved the proposed $8.7 million aquatic center will cost the average Walla Walla taxpayer an additional $91 a year in property tax. Property values have declined drastically in Walla Walla.
My Walla Walla home has declined about 40 percent in value. However, with the recent reassessments, I am paying hundreds more in property tax.
Residents have been more than generous supporting local bond issues resulting in millions of dollars for new fire and police stations and associated equipment improvements. Residents have supported local sales tax increases to support the Valley Transit bus system, maintenance and repair of city streets and mental health and substance abuse programs. The community has even helped with supplies for children at local schools.
Many local area friends have either lost jobs or have seen their pay reduced or frozen. More are on fixed incomes and struggle to provide for basic needs. Now we will be asked again to increase our tax burden for an aquatics park that I do not consider an essential community service.
When posed with the question of why private enterprise doesn't develop the proposed facility, the city has stated that the Walla Walla population is not large enough to be able to realize enough revenue to offset operating expenses and capital construction costs while making a profit.
I was at the Walla Walla City Council meeting and what I did notice is that the expected project revenue is an estimate. The aquatic center budget indicated that after the sixth year of operation depreciation and maintenance expenses overshadow revenues. The presenter at the meeting mentioned that attendance and revenues declined rapidly at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center after one year of operation.
So here we have a proposed facility that will be open only several months a year. It remains to be seen if the aquatic center will actually be self-sustaining as the City Council has specified. The city did not appear to do a good job maintaining Memorial Pool. An aquatic center project has already been voted down twice.
There are many swim options available. Jefferson Pool in Walla Walla has nominal costs for young children and there is also the YMCA. Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center in Milton-Freewater is a short drive. There are also public pools available in Pendleton, Pasco and Hermiston.