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Commissioners pause on pool expansion vote

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners Ron Rhinehart, left, and Harvey Prosser react differently to a discussion about possible expansion of the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool during a special meeting Tuesday.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners Ron Rhinehart, left, and Harvey Prosser react differently to a discussion about possible expansion of the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool during a special meeting Tuesday.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Plans for a bigger pool in Oak Harbor are on hold so officials can gauge public opinion over a possible tax proposal to foot the bill.

The North Whidbey Park and Recreation District has plans that would basically double the size of the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, located on Jerome Street. That expansion would cost an estimated $8 million and would have to be funded by a voter-approved bond.

However, an upcoming pool operations levy election and the tax climate on North Whidbey Island prompted commissioners to delay deciding a date for such a bond election until at least 2012.

Before that, the district is going to voters, probably in the spring of 2011, to ask for renewal of its six-year levy, which brings in approximately $535,000 for operations. The five-member board of commissioners doesn’t want a bond election to interfere with the chances of a levy passing.

“I think it’s difficult to ask voters for more money and asking for two proposals puts at least one at risk,” Commissioner Ron Rhinehart said during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Generally districts use bonds to fund larger capital improvement projects, which can take 20 years to pay off. Levies, which fund operations, are typically for a smaller amount and voters have a chance to re-authorize them after a set period of time.

Craig Carlson, North Whidbey Park and Recreation District executive director, said it’s more difficult to talk about two tax propositions rather than one. The maintenance and operations levy should be the district’s top priority.

Commissioner Allan McDougall also noted that North Whidbey Fire and Rescue recently went to the voters for a levy increase, and voters quashed that measure two times in the same year.

The numbers of people using the pool has increased in recent years. Last month was a record for the pool with nearly 12,000 people coming through the doors. The facility is also used by the Oak Harbor School District swim team and Navy personnel.

Preliminary plans show construction of a “zero-depth” pool that people can walk into, a lap pool and a “lazy river,” which could be used for floating on inflatables, swimming or water exercises. The plans also show more locker space, a family changing area and extra meeting rooms.

If voters eventually approve the bond, property owners would see the pool tax rate more than double, Carlson said. Property owners currently pay 13.5 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for the Park and Recreation District levy.

Rather than set a date for a bond election, the commissioners approved starting an informational campaign that will educate people about the pool’s programs and to gather public sentiment about the possible pool expansion.

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