Pool, Park and Rec District torn between reopening, repairing

North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District commissioners struggled last week with the decision whether to reopen the pool in the midst of the pandemic.

The pool has been closed since July 25 in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s guidelines.

In a prepared statement, the park and recreation district’s board of commissioners acknowledged that the pool could open if it is in compliance with the 10-person gathering limit.

Fidalgo Pool in Anacortes, for example, has been open under these guidelines for months.

The district, however, has opted to keep the Oak Harbor pool closed.

“We believe a better use of public funds would be to work on sorely needed maintenance and repairs that we could not normally do while the pool is open,” the parks commissioners’ statement said.

A hurdle the pool district must overcome is a lack of reserve funding to sustain itself.

“In 2018, this district was almost broke,” said Facilities Director Jay Cochran. “It’s a little bit different because we don’t have the reserve backup that a lot of these other places have.”

The majority of commissioners said they would like to see it reopen but they didn’t take any action at the recent meeting.

Commissioner Chris Wiegenstein and newly appointed Commissioner John Chargualaf said they put themselves in the shoes of voters and taxpayers when making the decision.

Chargualaf argued in favor of reopening the pool in order to live up to levy campaign promises.

“Every citizen that I talked to, every voter that I talked to from the school, around my neighborhood, as a taxpayer and as a resident of Oak Harbor and North Whidbey, my conversation, my pitch when we held those blue stickers, when I put those signs out there, I never said it would be based on cash,” said Chargualaf.

“That’s my big problem, because when I face a member of the public, I don’t want to throw a bunch of numbers in there and begin to have a financial discussion because that wasn’t a discussion when I asked for the vote,” he added.

Commissioner Juli Brooks Leete said she agreed with Chargualaf, but added she recognizes the progress the district can make by conducting maintenance and repairs during the closure.

“If we could be open and still accomplish what we need to accomplish … I’d rather be open because I think when it comes time to pass this levy our community might be more favorable,” Leete said.

Wiegenstein argued in favor of remaining closed for repairs, explaining he considers it to be more fiscally conservative.

“We are not in the same situation we were when we asked them to approve the levy.” Wiegenstein said. “We were shut down by the state by a COVID pandemic.”

Commissioner Patricia Hardin agreed with Wiegenstein. She said that the district should expand on other services.

For now the pool will remain closed. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22.