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Pool users hope levy won’t sink

Oak Harbor’s John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool could face a bleak future if September’s Parks and Rec levy fails to pass.

Nearly 90 percent of the money raised by the levy is earmarked for the maintenance and operation of the pool. That means the pool could stand to gain — or lose — approximately $370,000 of its roughly $730,000 annual budget.

“The last (levy) was six years ago, so this is a request to renew what had gone on in the past,” said Park District Director Craig Carlson. “That might be part of the thing people don’t understand.”

Carlson said the levy money allows the pool to charge lower admission, offer more programs and stay open seven days a week.

“We’re coming from the point of view of helping make it affordable to everyone in the community,” he said. “We have a generous schedule, we’re open a lot of hours to meet the community. Availability and affordability is what the taxpayers provide.”

Swimmers Wednesday expressed their appreciation for the accessibility and quality of the pool.

“We live in Anacortes and we come down here to use this pool,” Joa Crowder said.

Part of the appeal is the kids’ training pool where her two-and-a-half year-old twins Ella and Madeline can play.

“It’s warmer, and they can touch the bottom,” she said. “I was part of Seattle aquatics and worked with a lot of pools and this is a really nice facility.”

“This is our first time and we love it here,” said Crowder’s friend, Amy Richards, who brought her two-and-a-half year-old girls Zoie and Olivia Schwartz to the training pool.

Carlson said September’s maintenance and operations levy renewal helps limit expensive election costs. Six years is the longest term levy that can be run, and is more cost-effective than reapplying for a new levy every two or three years. The levy, which would assess an 18-cent tax per $1,000 of assessed property value, is actually two cents cheaper than the levy passed six years ago, which requested a maximum of 20 cents per $1,000.

“A very important part of this is maintenance,” Carlson said. “Four years ago the building was paid off. The taxpayers are actually paying less now then they were for the cost of maintenance and construction. That (construction bond) is all taken care of now.”

Properly maintaining the pool is an expensive undertaking. Carlson estimates that the utilities alone cost about $100,000 per year. Staffing accounts for another $350,000. And over the last six years, the pool and pool building have undergone nearly $1 million in repairs and improvements — including the installation of a new heating and ventilation system.

Those improvements have also drastically increased community involvement. In the past two years, Carlson estimates, participation has gone up by 70 percent. Swimming lessons and swim team enrollment have doubled. And even through there are three months left in the year, the pool has already reached its annual revenue goal of approximately $360,000.

Randi Ciminski of Oak Harbor is a levy supporter who started coming to the pool two years ago for its water aerobics program, and has continued even after hip replacement surgery.

“It’s a wonderful non-impact way to exercise and it’s good for your heart,” she said. “The instructors are wonderful. They keep you motivated and they’re very attentive.”

Ciminski said Carlson and the rest of the pool staff have done a good job becoming involved with the community and listening to the needs of pool users.

“They pay attention to needs and questions here,” she said. “They’re very open to that. We’re very involved as a family here and think it’s important to support a community facility like this.”

Statistically, the success of the pool is unusual for a community Oak Harbor’s size. Carlson said the use rate is similar to pools in communities with five times as many people.

“We’re at a point where we could use an expansion,” Carlson said. Future goals could include expanding the size of the training pool, adding more recreational activities and providing more pool space to meet the growing demand of the community.

And although the pool is working to become more self-sufficient,”We don’t have a lot of money in the bank to keep us running if the levy doesn’t pass,” Carlson said. “We probably have only $100,000 and that doesn’t go very far.”

The North Whidbey Park and Recreation District levy also supports the ballfields and off-leash park at Clover Valley.

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