‘Draconian cuts’ to come if parks levy fails again

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners spent hours Tuesday talking about how to proceed if a replacement levy doesn’t pass on Nov. 7.

“Come Nov. 8, if the levy doesn’t pass, we’re going to see some Draconian cuts,” said Commissioner Shane Hoffmire.

Executive Director Steve McCaslin presented a spreadsheet showing what the budget might look like if the levy fails.

“A complete shutdown could mean a lot of things,” McCaslin said. It could be completely shutting down all services or it could look at narrowing focus to partial programs.

“I would prefer to look at modified operations,” said board Chairwoman Donna Sue Holly. “It depends on what we want to do and what we can afford.

“I know somewhere there’s a sweet spot, I don’t know, maybe not.”

One thing was clear, to stay open if the levy doesn’t pass, the district must cut programs and raise fees.

The levy proposal is a replacement levy. The district is asking voters to renew its existing levy at 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. It costs the owner of a $270,000 home, which is the medium home value in Oak Harbor, $46 each year.

The levy provides the district more than half its annual revenue to support operations at the pool, a dog park and ball fields.

The district spent $32,000 to run the levy in the August primary and it failed with more than 51 percent of voters opposed.

To pass, the levy needs a voter supermajority.

“It’s a hard reality,” said Hoffmire. “We may have to shut down the pool completely for a year, but voters still have an opportunity to change that.”

Holly suggested the board try to balance costs versus expenses as if the district were to never pass another levy.

Another commissioner suggested the district look at getting a nonprofit citizens group to raise funds for the pool.

“If the local people aren’t going to pay for the pool, no one is,” Hoffmire said. “We’re not going to raise the money annually to cover costs.”

Ideas thrown out during the work session were closing down the park, only opening the pool during select program times and implementing other cost-saving measures, such as adjusting the pool temperature and operating with a skeleton crew.

It costs $68,000 annually to heat the pool. It takes two days to heat the pool one degree, but naturally it never drops below 74 degrees. The district spends $65,000 annually on insurance and estimates that, if it shut down operations completely, it will still cost about $50,000 to insure during 2018.

“It’s a compelling story for the taxpayers to understand (what’s at stake,)” Commissioner Wendy Shingleton said.

Commissioners asked McCaslin to crunch numbers and reconfigure programs focusing on swim lessons, aerobics and a few other programs. They also wanted to see how open swim and lane swim could be fit in during times of other more profitable programs.

Whatever the board decides to do to cut costs, it needs to include public access to the pool, Shingleton said.

“I think if we close off access to the pool completely, we’re done.”

The park board’s next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28 at the Oak Harbor Public Schools District Office.

Swim instructor Kirsten Polack helps 3 year-old Hailey Skirvseth during swim lessons Wednesday evening at the pool in Oak Harbor. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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