Some questions can be answered concerning center

On Thursday, Sept. 26, Valley Record General Manager Jim McKiernan raised a series of excellent questions about the proposed Snoqualmie Community Center. As I sat at the kitchen table reading Jim's editorial, it became clear that those questions are what residents all over the Valley need answers to, especially since many of us had just voted for the fire station levy.

With the help of the Community Center Planning Election Campaign Committee, I compiled answers to some of the questions that Jim raised. That committee plans to address other questions in the next few weeks, but this is some of the information available now:

1. Where is a detailed budget for the community center construction, operating and maintenance costs?

Feasibility studies, estimates and plans have been prepared by numerous city consultants and a detailed budget will be available in the next two to three weeks on a Web site the committee is designing. Those budget figures have been crucial to developing a strategy for how to price the bond levy and user fees.

2. What are the projected maintenance and operation (M&O) costs of the center?

Based on estimates - updated on Dec. 4 by Ballard King and Associates and ARC Architects, the maintenance and operation expenses are estimated at $770,218 annually for the 39,500-square-foot facility, which includes a basketball gym, pool, workout equipment and meeting/art rooms.

3. What are the potential sources of revenue to offset M&O expenses?

The city would generate an estimated $425,000 annually from user fees, classes, programs and rentals. The deficit of $345,218 annually could be covered by potential partnerships. These partnerships might include: the Snoqualmie Valley School District and Cedarcrest High School swim teams and educational programs, Friends of Youth (HUB), Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Bellevue Community College recreational and educational programs and local and regional swim teams and basketball leagues. The planners need to estimate the full range of special users and the fees that would be generated.

4. How can Snoqualmie afford such a facility, especially with the school bond coming up next year?

Snoqualmie is experiencing phenomenal but fairly well-planned growth. While our population has tripled in size since 1998, our city's assessed valuation (the "economic value" of our community) is now nearly five times what it was in 1998.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District has also experienced substantial increases in its assessed valuation. These increased valuations have caused levy rates in the Snoqualmie area to drop significantly, while still increasing revenue substantially. The city of Snoqualmie has been adding more than $100 million of new construction annually during the past four years.

As new homes and businesses move into Snoqualmie, they will help share in the cost of fire and community center bonds, which will continue to drop rates for everyone. As a conservative estimate, for every $100 million of assessed valuation that is added to the city of Snoqualmie, the rate on each city bond will drop by 3 cents per $1,000.

5. Are my taxes going to go through the roof?

Not in Snoqualmie. To illustrate this, let's show the tax history of an average Snoqualmie resident family, "John and Mary Doe." As seen below, Mr. and Mrs. Doe's total property tax levy rate has gone down in each of the past five years. Although they are paying $167 more on their total annual property tax bill, this is only because they now have $70,896 of additional equity in their home. Had the levy rate remained the same, they would now be paying an additional $868 in taxes on that equity.

How can this be happening? As mentioned above, the growth of the city population has resulted in a larger tax base that has lowered the levy rate for all of us.

The Doe family's property tax history:

Year; house value*; levy rate**; tax bill

1998; $243,400; $14.60; $3,554.00

1999; $256,900; $14.30; $3,674.00

2000; $279,764; $13.38; $3,744.00

2001; $300,187; $12.47; $3,744.00

2002; $314,296; $11.84; $3,721.00

(*Includes 6.6 percent average annual inflation for local area. **Rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation of their home. Source: www.metrokc.


If the Does' 1998 levy rate was unchanged:

2002; $314,296; $14.60*; $4,589.00

2002; $314,296; $11.84**; $3,721.00

Difference: $868

(*1998 levy rate. **2002 levy rate.)

6. How much will the $9 million bond cost me?

The cost over 20 years would be 76 cents per $1,000 of your home valuation ($.76). But because of the increased number of residents moving to the community, that bond tax burden will be increasingly shared with others, which should lower the overall rate over time.

7. What are the current user fees being proposed?

The proposed daily family rate is $7, and the monthly unlimited-use rate is $28. Our low-income families deserve a chance to pay these low rates and receive scholarships, as needed.

Nonresidents should and would pay more (families: daily $10.50, and monthly $41).

While higher fees could be established to assure that the facility pays for itself during the first years of operation without an active push for special-event fees, the goal was to propose rates that would be affordable to most residents.

8. It seems too early, shouldn't we wait another year?

No, for several reasons. First, municipal bonds have hit historically low interest rates. Construction costs have dropped during this very competitive and slow market. And it will take a couple of years to finalize designs and complete construction.

By the time the center opens its doors in the fall of 2005, Snoqualmie's population is projected to be more than 6,200 residents and rising. We will represent 60 percent of those using a facility that was designed for a population of 10,000.

The remaining demand (40 percent of the patrons) will easily come from the very large population spread from Preston and Carnation to the Snoqualmie Pass.

As with the fire station, this upcoming levy vote is important to the Valley we all live in. Please encourage your neighbors to consider this opportunity carefully as we receive more of the information we need to make a smart decision in November.

Peter Pecora is a resident of Snoqualmie.

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