Community center foes face off at debate

Just about everybody in Snoqualmie says they want a community center. The main questions are whether it's affordable and if the leisure pool that's part of the proposal is the best way to improve swimming options in the Snoqualmie Valley. Snoqualmie voters will have to decide soon: the Nov. 7 ballot includes a vote on a $8.75 million bond to build the community center and a 20-year levy hike to pay for maintenance and operation.

To pass, the bond requires 60 percent approval (with at least 40 percent of the number voting in the last November election participating), while the levy lid lift requires a simple majority of more than 50 percent. Members of city-appointed pro and con committees held a debate Wednesday, Oct. 18, before a crowd of some 150 area residents.

Supporters argued that the center is needed and approval must come now to avoid ever-escalating construction costs. They also said the bond and levy proposal is the best way to improve swimming options in the Valley at the best cost.

"There is a huge demand," said Chelley Patterson, a member of the Vote YES Committee and the volunteer Snoqualmie Parks Board Commission. She said the city has a "unique opportunity" to lock in costs and have future growth help pay for the community center. She cited a city survey conducted earlier this year that determined a large majority of city residents prefer the community center/pool option and were willing to pay higher taxes for it.

Opponents countered that the area is already one of the highest-taxed areas in the county, a large impending school levy should take priority and a better option for a pool would be the regional pool concept proposed this summer by the Si View Metropolitan Parks District. They urged using existing money, augmented by small City Council-approved bonds, to fund a community center with all the amenities proposed except the pool.

"Taxes are a priority," said Gene Burrus, a member of the committee advocating rejection. He asked whether city residents want to pay nearly $13 million for a pool when the Snoqualmie Valley School District plans to place a $209.2 million bond on the Feb. 6, 2007, ballot. "Which are we going to choose, pools or schools?"

The proposal calls for building a 350,000-square-foot community center on 4 acres of city-owned land on Snoqualmie Ridge. Of that, 9,000 square feet would be the pool. Al Franks, city parks and recreation director, said the pool closest in size to the one proposed is at the Center at Norpoint in northeast Tacoma, though the Snoqualmie pool would be slightly smaller. The Tacoma pool features a beach walk-in, mushroom waterfall and three 20-yard lap lanes with a depth of 4 feet. It is maintained at 85 degrees Fahrenheit for certified arthritis classes. Other amenities include two hot spas, a family pool spa at 95 degrees Fahrenheit, an adults-only spa at 98 degrees Fahrenheit and a dry sauna.

The city has $3.3 million in mitigation fees from Snoqualmie Ridge developers and $800,000 in real estate tax money reserves to put toward a community center. A center with a gymnasium, weight and fitness room, meetings and classrooms, aerobics and dance rooms, offices, reception hall and kitchen would cost $5.4 million, the proposed leisure pool adds $3.1 million. Taxes, fees, permits and furniture add nearly $3 million to the total, with inflation bringing the estimated cost to $12.7 million.

Question: What happens if the propositions fail?

No committee: There is a need for some kind of facility. If the propositions fail, the city will have to look at its priorities and decide whether to build a small community center with money available or sell $2.7 million of bonds to build a large community center as proposed, but without the pool.

Yes committee: If one passes but the other fails, the failed measure could be brought back to voters next year for another chance. However, the delay would be costly. Building a smaller facility or one without a pool doesn't make sense; it's the blend of amenities that will make the center a success.

Q: Would a regional pool be sufficient for the area population?

Yes: There aren't enough specifics about the regional pool proposal to know.

No: The regional 41,000-square-foot aquatic facility proposed by Si View would be more than sufficient and would allow the cost to be spread among more property owners.

Q: How would the propositions affect area schools?

Yes: They would work in tandem with space for after-school programs, classes and other activities for youths.

No: It could endanger the spring school levy.

Q: Why not build a pool large enough for swim team competitions?

Yes: The school district said it's not willing to fund a competition-sized pool. Pools that size lose money, recovering just 50 percent of their costs, while leisure pools recover 140-150 percent of costs.

No: A standard pool is 22,500 square feet with six lanes; the proposed pool is less than half that size and would be barely adequate. A better option, if people wish to pay for a pool, would be the regional pool proposal.

Q: How much would a regional pool cost?

Yes: The 2004 estimate was about $12 million to build the pool. Because that concept is several years away, inflation could raise the costs to $19 million to $24 million without land costs.

No: Si View hasn't provided a timeline.

Q: How can Si View support a pool?

No: The district formed because a single city alone couldn't afford to keep the pool after King County chose to no longer pay for its maintenance. By sharing costs across the district, residents could afford it. The existing pool was built years ago, so they now just have to pay operating and maintenance (M&O) costs on it.

Yes: Si View is supported by tax dollars and user fees from around the district, which includes North Bend and surrounding areas. If Snoqualmie taxpayer money went into a regional pool and it was built somewhere else, the related income of people shopping before or after visiting the aquatic center would also go elsewhere.

Q: Where did the community center operating costs come from?

Yes: Al Frank, Snoqualmie parks and recreation director.

No: Staff is the biggest operating cost. The estimate for the number of employees at the proposed center is nearly half what other area centers have. Any cost overruns would have to come from the city's general fund budget.

(Frank said most other centers have additional staff for extra programs such as youth and senior citizen activities; that staffing was not included in his estimate, which takes into account staffing for the pool and center alone. User fees would pay for additional staffing if needed, he said.)

Q: Why not build a facility without a pool?

No: The city has enough money to build a smaller facility. The survey lacked enought information for people to make a fully informed decision.

Yes: The questionnaire was well-written. Only 14 percent wanted a small hall, all that could be built with the mitigation money alone, which would still require a M&O levy to the tune of 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Vote Yes Committee members present at the debate: Brent Lutz, Chelley Patterson and Peter Pecora. Vote No Committee members present at the debate: Gene Burrus, Jack Webber and Tony Yanez.

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