Parks & Rec votes to pull plug on funding for NW aquatic club

North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District Board is pulling the plug on funding for the North Whidbey Aquatic Club and masters programs.

Dissolution of the club is effective Aug. 15.

With $350,000 to $580,000 in known pool maintenance expenses over the next six years, the district has an obligation to maintain its facilities, said Commissioner Wendy Shingleton, who brought the motion to the table.

“Serious action must be taken,” she said during Thursday’s Parks and Recreation board meeting.

The decision to cut funding was made during a special meeting in which each commissioner had a set amount of time to voice his or her positions on the dissolution of the club.

Public comment was not allowed at the meeting.

The original motion was to dissolve the aquatic club, which Shingleton amended to include masters. Former parks district commissioner and aquatic club supporter Steve Hoffmire alleged Friday that, because the motion was amended, he thought the meeting might be illegal and any decisions void.

Not so, according to Nancy Krier, assistant attorney general for open government.

Krier said the state law says notices of special meetings must include the date, time and business to be conducted. It doesn’t say a board can’t amend a motion.

“I’m not aware of a case where the court has determined how specific an agenda must be,” she said. “There’s nothing to indicate the law was broken.”

Because the issue at hand appears to be whether or not the district should fund a swim coach and that position facilitates both programs, the two items go hand-in-hand and the amendment seemed to be related to the business advertised to be conducted, Krier said.

“It really bothers me we’re here,” said Commissioner Shane Hoffmire, Steve Hoffmire’s son.

In the last year, the swim club has been successful, he said, adding it has grown 33 percent and, according to stats from the executive director, it’s operating $5,000 in the black.

There are currently 49 kids in the swim club.

“What has happened is not right,” Shane Hoffmire said.

While saying he supported the existing model for the swim club, Shane Hoffmire said he was willing to support other revenue-neutral models, if presented.

“Anything is better than this,” he said.

Dissolving the programs will create its own costs for the district, said Executive Director Steve McCaslin. The district would be responsible for paying the swim club coach’s unemployment of nearly $12,000 for six months.

“Every penny of that unemployment will come out of our pockets,” Hoffmire said.

The swim club coach’s salary is $48,000 per year, or $61,000 when benefits are factored in.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Richard Fort said the board’s decision is about compromise and how to best serve all children in the taxpayer-funded district.

This is, unfortunately, the only option, he said.

Over the past six years, the district spent 10 percent of its maintenance and operations levy money on coaching staff, draining its reserves, Fort said, noting that the swim club is the only youth sports program in Oak Harbor — outside of public schools — with a professional coach.

Youth activities like the swim club are important to the community because they keep kids out of trouble, said Commissioner Michael Fraasch.

The levy cost of 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation is minor compared to the cost of keeping kids out of jail, he said.

“I care where my taxes are going,” Fraasch said, adding, “$48,000 — who gives a crap?”

When she first joined the Parks and Recreation board, Chairwoman Donna Sue Holly said her primary goal was to figure out how to pay the half-million dollars in maintenance costs hanging over the pool.

Holly said she didn’t understand why taxpayers footed the bill for a swim coach.

“‘Because that’s the way it’s always done’ is not a good answer,” Holly said.

The swim team costs the district tens of thousands of dollars each year, money that could have been going into the reserve, Holly said.

The board tried working with the swim club, including last month asking McCaslin to present options for making the swim team self-supporting.

That proposal included having the coach take over the high school swim team contract, absorbing that revenue to cover a portion of his salary and diverting all of the swim club dues to cover the remaining cost of the coach. That proposal did not have the club paying for use of the pool.

The parks and recreation board rejected that proposal.

Pushback from the executive director and aquatic club made it clear there was no way that proposal would be accepted, said Holly.

“NWAC obviously feels they’re entitled to have a professional coach for their children paid for by their neighbors,” Holly said. “You need to pay the expenses for your children.”

The motion to stop funding for the aquatic club was approved by a vote of 3-2. Fort, Shingleton and Holly voted in favor; Hoffmire and Fraasch voted against.

The parks district is running a replacement levy in August, something Hoffmire said he fears won’t pass because of the decision to pull swim club funding.

“Seventeen cents per thousand? I don’t know who the hell would give us 17 cents,” he said.

In September, McCaslin was directed to bring options for starting a recreational, non-competitive swim club at the district.

“Noncompetitive” is a joke, Fraasch said.

“That’s where we start giving them participation trophies,” he said. “Everyone wins because they tried.

“Guess what. The real world is competition. Kids are going to go out and fall flat on their asses.”

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