North Whidbey Park and Rec levy on August ballot

Commissioners for North Whidbey Park and Recreation District are gearing up to ask voters to approve a replacement levy earlier than anticipated.

The board originally intended to put the levy on November’s ballot but now plans to include it on the August primary ballot.

When it goes on the ballot, the district board wants it clear to voters that the private swim team will no longer receive tax dollars to operate.

If the district went with its original plan to run the levy in November and it failed, and it was run again in February 2018, the district wouldn’t receive tax dollars until January 2019, said board Chairwoman Donna Sue Holly.

Historically, the levy has run in August, fails and is run again in November and passes, she said.

“Oak Harbor really does need a pool, and most people think that,” Holly said. “It’s just a matter of whether they think we’re using their tax dollars appropriately.”

“This is up to the taxpayers and I just don’t know the temper of the community.”

To educate the public on where the board stands with regard to its budget priorities, controversy over the swim team and other district matters, the board recently drafted and approved a statement to release to the public.

“We needed to write something that explains — it’s the maintenance,” Holly said.

In the statement, the board explains the pool, the district’s primary asset, is complex to operate, aging and in need of repair.

“First and foremost, we must ensure we have a safe and functioning facility for our entire community,” the board’s statement reads.

The district’s current levy collects 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The replacement levy being proposed will be at the same rate and costs the average home owner $4 per month.

“This board valued recreation programs for our community, including our youth, and hopes to have expanded offerings for 2018, ones utilizing little to no taxpayer monies,” the board says in the statement.

“We are also hopeful that the competitive swim club can continue, but it cannot consume our already limited resources to do so.”

The board statement was approved with three votes in favor. Commissioner Shane Hoffmire voted against the statement. Commissioner Michael Faasch abstained.

“I voted ‘no’ as I think it’s totally unrealistic that North Whidbey Aquatic Club not be given at least two years to become fully self-supporting, if that is in fact what the board is in favor of,” Hoffmire said.

“That broad and overwhelming community support of NWAC is consistent with what I hear as I’m out in the community,” he said. “As a board I feel we must ensure that we’re representing all of the community equally all of the time.”

The board holds its regular meeting 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Oak Harbor school district office.

During the meeting, pool Executive Director Steve McCaslin will present a plan for how the swim team can become self sustaining by September, including paying program staffing costs.

“I am appreciative that my fellow commissioners were receptive to making several positive changes to this board statement, but, at the end of the day, I couldn’t support it,” Hoffmire said.

“The sentence stating that NWAC couldn’t be given any support needed to be removed,” he said.

“I too believe that maintaining our facility’s within reason should be our No. 1 priority and swim lessons immediately behind that and everything else to follow.”

The board statement can be read on the district’s website, www.oakharborpool.com

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