The Centralia City Council is expected to consider a pair of ordinances at its regular meeting Tuesday night to put propositions for funding restoration and operation of the Pearl Street Pool on the ballot in November.
Councilors will be discussing how to best present the two ordinances to voters, the most significant being a $2.6 million general obligation bond issue for the refurbishment of the pool itself and the construction of a new locker room facility. A separate proposition would allow for a levy lid lift to fund annual operations and maintenance costs estimated to be $75,000 per year.
Both propositions would be paid for through property taxes over a span of 20 years. Taxpayers would see an increase of $0.154 per $1,000 of assessed value for the bond and an additional $0.064 per $1,000 for the operation costs. Based on a median home value of $219,000 within city limits, passage of both would result in an average annual increase of $47.98; just the bond would come to $33.87 annually.
Shannon Murphy-Olson, city attorney for Centralia, explained Friday that the two items have to be considered separately, because the general obligation bonds would only be designated for capital improvements, not ongoing costs. As the ballot propositions are drafted in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting, both would have to pass in order for the project to move forward.
“The council could say they want the city to pick up the operations and maintenance costs, so that if that ordinance fails, we can still go forward with the bond,” Murphy-Olson said. “The challenge we have is, what if we put both (on the ballot) and don’t make it an all-or-nothing proposition? They’re written that way in order to have that discussion, since this is just the first reading of the ordinance. When we have that second reading (July 23), we’ll need to it to be in final form.”
City staff and members of the local S.T.O.P. (Save The Outdoor Pool) and Swim nonprofit advocating for the project have worked over the past month to lower the initial cost estimate of $4 million as presented in June as the result of an investment-grade audit of the facility by outside firm Ameresco.
The city contracted with Ameresco for the audit through an agreement with the state Department of Enterprise Services.
Much of the bloat within the initial cost estimates came from plans to renovate both the pool and the original bath house. To retrofit the latter to meet seismic requirements and other modern building codes would have cost significantly more than to demolish and replace it. Plans call for the new building to have a community room to be made available year-round for parties and other gatherings. Revenues from use of the community space will be used to offset operating costs, which were initially estimated to be well above $100,000 per year.
City Council member Joyce Barnes has been involved with the pool since Friends In Need, a local nonprofit, took over operation of the facility from the city from 1984-2007. Barnes made reopening the pool part of her campaign platform following its closure in 2011. While she touts the $2.6 million figure as a great improvement on the initial figures and hopes people will support it in November, she’s not a fan of the second proposition.
“I personally don’t think they should have (operations and maintenance) on there, but that’s just my view,” Barnes said. “The city has the money. They don’t need to scare the voters by putting that on there. When you have two big bonds like that, it just adds fear and could make it bottom out. We’re growing as a city, the new distribution company at the (Port of Centralia) is hiring, and we’re getting better economically. There’s really no way to figure what the costs will be 20 years from now.”