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Will West Linn residents decide to dive in?

It's time to finally vote on proposed aquatic center

by: VERN UYETAKE - Residents will have the chance to vote on a $24 million measure to construct an indoor pool and community center near Tanner Creek Park.Local ballots for the Nov. 5 Clackamas County special election will be mailed on Friday, and at long last West Linn residents will have a chance to weigh in on a proposal that has been debated for decades.

Measure 3-432 on the ballot asks voters if West Linn should “sell bonds to refinance land and construct, equip and furnish a new indoor aquatic and community center.”

The $24 million facility would be located on city-owned property near Tanner Creek Park, housing a pool with “aquatic park-like features” as well as a gym, running track, classrooms and fitness areas.

The city council voted unanimously July 1 to pass a resolution that officially put the measure on the November ballot. Though the council as a whole expressed mixed feelings about the idea, Council President Mike Jones said the time had come to “allow the voters to vote after a pretty active decade of discussion and a very active three years.”

Planning Commissioner Nancy King, who was a member of the aquatic center task force developed in 2010, agreed with Jones and personally supports the proposal.

“The biggest thing is, this center would be the first place in West Linn where seniors, kids and parents can all interact together,” King said. “I see this as a really good center for West Linn, and I have lived in West Linn since 2001.”

Though the aquatic center task force recommended in February that the city press forward with a cheaper $8.4 million outdoor facility, results from a poll conducted in April suggested residents were more receptive to an indoor park.

The outdoor park featured a pool with similar aquatic center features, but would have only been open during the summer months and did not include any other exercise facilities.

The polling, which involved 300 phone surveys between April 20 and 21 as well as 834 online community surveys from April 25 to May 1, showed that the indoor proposal was supported by 54 percent of the phone polls and 66 percent of the Web responses, while the outdoor park came in at 47 and 51 percent respectively.However, support even for the indoor facility began to drop as residents learned more about the project. Where 66 percent of online respondents were initially supportive of the indoor facility, only 52 percent provided “informed support” after obtaining more details. When residents were told that the facility would operate at a deficit and require a $75,000 annual subsidy, support plummeted to 30 percent.

Indeed, some residents look at the price tag and say the aquatic center is simply too expensive for an already cash-strapped city. Construction of the facility would raise property taxes by an estimated 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $152 per year on a home valued at $285,000.”The proposed aquatic center is a financial disaster waiting to happen,” resident Charles Seims wrote in an opposition argument published in Clackamas County’s voters pamphlet. “Our area is adequately served by many existing aquatic facilities, most notably the North Clackamas Aquatic Center. ... It’s a nice facility but, like most publicly funded aquatic centers, it loses big money. Ours will too.”

On that last point, King disagrees.

“Most frequently, people compare this to the Clackamas water center,” King said. “But if it’s just water you have, it’s much more difficult to break even or make a profit. You have to have out-of-water amenities as well.”

With a gym, running track and classrooms to go along with the pool, King said, West Linn’s aquatic center would draw a much larger group of customers and, in turn, develop a steady cash flow that is lacking at the North Clackamas Aquatic Center.

“And it’s not just private for West Linn,” King said. “There’s a much larger market for this location. From that perspective, while there might be a deficit — I think $75,000 was the last figure — the experts and the parks department in general think we can make a break-even point through marketing, etcetera.” Other residents aren’t willing to invest in that sense of optimism.

“The $75,000 per year operating loss will reduce the funds available to fix the potholes in our roads, reduce the funds available to replace 100-year-old water delivery mains, reduce the funds available to replace 100-year-old sewer mains,” Charles R. Roberts wrote in the voters’ pamphlet. “This certainly doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.”

Should the measure pass, estimated fees for adult membership at the aquatic center are $43 per month, or $500 annually. Family memberships would be $63 per month and $750 annually, while seniors and youths would get in for a discount at $30 per month and $350 annually.

“It could shift,” King said. “But this is what our operational analysis is built on.”

Ballots must be received at a designated drop-off box by 8 p.m. Nov. 5. West Linn has two ballot boxes, one located outside of city hall at 22500 Salamo Road and the other inside the West Linn Public Library at 1595 Burns St.

To see the measure and the voters pamphlet, visit clackamas.us/elections/documents/VPWestLinnNov.pdf.

To learn more about the proposed center, visit westlinncommunitycenter.com.

Patrick Malee can be reached at pmalee@westlinntidings.com and 503-636-1281, ext. 106. Follow him on Twitter, @pmalee_wl


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