North Whidbey Park and Recreation leaders react to pool levy failure

Only slightly more than 200 votes were needed to change the results of Tuesday’s park and recreation district levy, which supports Oak Harbor’s community swimming pool.

With the failure of a proposal that accounts for more than half of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District budget, leaders will send the proposal back to voters and start making contingency plans in case the funding loss becomes a reality.

The renewal levy, which would have brought in approximately $550,000 a year for the next six years, failed Tuesday with 4,100 voters approving the measure and 3,123 voters rejecting the measure, according to information released Thursday afternoon by the Island County Auditor’s Office. Despite a 56.76 percent approval, the measure needed a 60-percent supermajority in order to pass.

“I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t get to that number and that’s a hard number to reach,” Executive Director Craig Carlson said.

Park officials already have placed the levy proposal on the November ballot. Carlson said by law they had to file the proposal Tuesday, which is before the results were known from the primary election.

Deputy Auditor Michele Reagan said a law change approved by the state Legislature earlier in the year set an Aug. 16 deadline for proposals for the November ballot.

Carlson said he plans to meet with the auditor’s office to tweak the title of the ballot to include the word “pool.” When he visited the Oak Harbor Public Market recently, he was surprised at the number of people who didn’t realize the park and recreation district levy had anything to do with the pool. Operating and maintenance costs of the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool accounts for around 80 percent of the district’s budget.

The five-member board of commissioners for the park district talked about the levy result during their monthly board meeting Thursday night.

Ron Rhinehart said the board will hold a special meeting in the coming weeks to develop a contingency plan should voters reject the proposal in November. If that happens, it would be at least one year before the park and recreation district could see any money coming from taxpayers.

The commissioners already made some tentative plans should the levy fail again. They placed a stipulation in an agreement allowing the school district to use the pool for the high school swim team, which goes until February 2012.

“For the last six weeks, we may not have an operational facility to give them access to,” Rhinehart said.

The commissioners did discuss briefly what happens if the district loses more than half its funding. Board member Harvey Prosser noted the danger of increasing swimming fee rates to cover the loss.

“If you raise the rates to where it would become self-sufficient, then nobody would come,” Prosser said.

“Nobody could afford it,” fellow board member Allen McDougall said.

Carlson hopes the higher voter turnout of the November general election, combined with people’s realization of the pool’s value to the community, will put it over the 60 percent barrier.

“I’m optimistic people will see how important these programs are to the community,” Carlson said.

Park district commissioners want public input during their meeting about the district’s contingency plans. The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, 85 SE Jerome St., Oak Harbor.


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