North Whidbey Park and Recreation District Commissioners Richard Fort and Donna Sue Holly review financial comparisons of district programs Thursday. Photo by Megan Hansen/Whidbey News-Times

With levy looming, Parks & Rec board at odds over funding swimming coach

With North Whidbey Parks and Recreation preparing to float a replacement levy, district commissioners are in disagreement on how that money should be spent.

During a special meeting Thursday, three of the five commissioners said they believe the district shouldn’t continue paying the salary of the North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach.

Commissioners Richard Fort, Donna Sue Holly and Wendy Shingleton said the aquatic club should be paying for its own expenses.

They argued the club was a luxury, not a necessity and that the district had other expenses it needed to worry about such as repairs to the pool.

“It’s a huge expense — huge and it’s solely for NWAC,” Holly said. “I don’t think our small town should be paying for kid’s competitive swimming. I think it’s a great program, I just don’t think we should pay for it.”

“I’m just trying to do what’s best for the district and what’s best for the taxpayer.”

Shingleton went so far as to suggest the district begin executing a separation agreement with the club and withdraw financial support by July 31 or end the program in August.

The motion died and the topic was tabled until a future meeting.

Commissioner Shane Hoffmire argued that the aquatic club is the lifeblood of the district and said separating from it would be detrimental.

He argued it was unrealistic to expect all programs to be self-sustaining.

“I don’t see how anyone’s going to think lap swim’s going to pay for itself,” Hoffmire said. “No one’s going to pay $19 for lap swim. It’s going to cease to exist.”

“I truly believe this pool would not be here without NWAC,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Fraasch was absent from the special meeting.

The board allowed no public comment during the special meeting.

During the two-and-a-half hour meeting, commissioners reviewed financial comparisons with different methodologies prepared by Fort and Steve McCaslin, the parks and rec district executive director.

The way he structured the budget, every program contributes to overhead costs, said McCaslin. By having programs contribute to operating costs, it helps build the reserve.

McCaslin said he considers all of the senior staff, the swim coach included, as overhead costs.

The aquatic club covers 25 percent of the cost of the coach through lane-hour charges. The coach’s annual salary comes to $61,000, including benefits. Approximately $45,000 is covered by the parks district.

That $45,000 is a lot for the district to be spending on an employee who only benefits one program, Forks said. “Maybe we need to be creative in how we use the coach so we’re not using $45,000 of the M&O levy.”

Fort and Holly disagreed that senior staff should be considered overhead.

“The smartest thing this board did was hire a money person, and then we’re not going to let him do his job,” Hoffmire said. “I don’t understand why we didn’t do this when we had a director who admitted she didn’t know what she was doing. But when we have a director who does, we try and poke holes in it.”

Hoffmire said he’s concerned that questioning expenses and the process now may cause the district to lose the levy.

The district’s six-year replacement levy ends in December. Voters will be asked to renew the current levy in November. The current levy is 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which brings in roughly $580,000 annually.

“I don’t think we anticipate increasing that (assessment),” McCaslin said.

“What is going on here is one of the most stupid, most futile things going on,” Hoffmire said. “I hope everyone knows November is close.”

If the levy doesn’t pass in November, the pool wouldn’t necessarily close, said McClasin, responding to concerns raised by Hoffmire.

“We’d have to go on some kind of reduced schedule,” he said. “I haven’t run the numbers yet.”

The district would have to wait until February 2018 to resubmit the levy to voters.

The next meeting of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District Board of Commissioners is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 18 at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, 51 SE Jerome St., Oak Harbor.