Levy failure in November may close Oak Harbor pool
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
September 21, 2011 · Updated 9:53 AM
Should a renewal levy that funds more than half of the operations of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District fail, commissioners may close the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool in Oak Harbor.
The five-member board of commissioners held a meeting last Thursday to weigh their options should the district lose taxpayer support. A renewal levy that needs a 60 percent supermajority will be on the ballot in the general election, having failed in the primary election. A team of volunteers is working on a campaign to support the pool levy.
Six people attended the meeting at the pool while dozens of children were in the pool learning to swim.
“Despite all of the contributions the pool makes to individual and community life, without that income, I am compelled to vote to close the pool on Jan. 1, 2012 if the levy does not pass,” Commissioner Allan McDougall said Thursday night. He suggested any reserves held by the park district should be used to limit the deterioration of the pool should it close.
The North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District is asking voters to renew a tax levy that brings in approximately $550,000 a year, which accounts for more than half of its revenues. The renewal levy maintains the rate taxpayers currently pay. If approved, property owners will pay 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The levy went before voters in August. Despite garnering 56.7 percent of the vote, it still failed.
While the district operates such programs as Babe Ruth baseball, running clubs and an off-leash dog park, approximately 80 percent of the district’s expenses are devoted to pool operations. Should the renewal levy fail, then it would be at least a year before such funding could be restored, regardless of the results of any special election in 2012.
The pool has been a popular attraction in Oak Harbor. Usage has increased in recent years and draws swimmers from outside the park and recreation district’s boundaries, which are the same as the Oak Harbor School District boundaries.
“I would be lost without this pool,” said Glenda Cantrell, a Coupeville resident who swims at the Vanderzicht pool four times a week and described the levy failure as “unacceptable.”
She asked if a private company could take over the pool if the levy fails.
Commissioner Harvey Prosser said the last time the levy failed was six years ago. The district couldn’t find any company that was interested in taking over the pool. Voters eventually approved the levy in a subsequent election.
The commissioners also discussed other options during their monthly meeting. One such option is to raise usage fees. Currently children and seniors generally pay $3 and adults pay $3.25 to swim.
McDougall said the commissioners have kept the fees low so as many people as possible can use the pool. If the fees are raised to cover the loss of taxpayer dollars, then the rates will more than double as fewer people will be able to afford the pool.
“The drop in attendance will increase the fees,” McDougall said, adding it will be a “zoo” in the first year of trying to figure out an accurate fee schedule.
Another option would be to attempt to generate more revenue from other district programs. However, Commissioner Ron Rhinehart said the district doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure, such as ticket booths or anything to limit access.
The commissioners also discussed the possibility of continuing operations of the baseball and running programs, along with the dog-walking park, if the pool closed.
In the meantime, volunteers are busy preparing to promote the levy to voters. Organizers cited as reasons for failure the low voter turnout and the fact that many people didn’t connect the pool to the park district. They hope that will change in the larger November election. Volunteers, who are participants of the district’s programs, will be at supermarkets in early October to hand out information and talk to voters about the park district programs. A website and Facebook page is also being developed to further inform people about the levy and the district.
Ballots are mailed to voters at least 18 days before the Nov. 8 general election.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.