>   The five-year operating bump for the Madras Aquatic Center -- the lone major local decision on the upcoming ballot -- is an effort to put the MAC on firm financial ground, for really the first time since it was built.
   The aquatic center's financial woes have been well documented. They've had to borrow about $90,000 for each of the past two years to survive between July and its tax-receiving day in November. Another $90,000 loan is budgeted for next year. This, even with a five-week closure in the spring, substantially reduced staffing and other cutbacks.
   Sure, in hindsight, MAC organizers should have asked for a higher operating levy than 25 cents per $1,000 back in 2006 when the pool construction and operating levies were approved. But they didn't. They also didn't know that the bottom would fall out of the economy and values would plummet. Very few did.
   But that's history. It's time to think about "the now" and the future.
   The MAC's request for another 40 cents per $1,000 (on top of the existing 25 cents per $1,000) would bring in an additional $240,000 in tax revenue. Along with covering that $90,000 annual shortfall, the levy would enable the district to fund its recreation program (currently paid for via a diminishing grant from the Bean Foundation), avoid the five-week closure, and establish a maintenance and emergency fund.
   It's common knowledge that funding pool and recreation programs can split a community. The MAC hasn't enjoyed overwhelming support from the entire district. Its construction and operating levies barely passed during good economic times.
   Many residents say they don't use the pool, so why should they support it? That's shortsighted. Many don't have kids in our schools, drive county roads, or put the military to personal use, but they pay taxes anyway because these tax-supported entities are for the good of the whole.
   Sheriff Jim Adkins has pointed out the compression aspect, saying more money to the MAC means fewer dollars to operate the jail, potentially as much as $200,000 or more. He's right. Compression is an issue. Adkins isn't prone to bashing other community elements; he knows and appreciates the value of the aquatic center. But his focus, and rightly so, is operating the county jail.
   The MAC proponents don't ignore the compression issue either, but they contend a healthy MAC operation contributes to a growing community, rising property values and, hopefully soon, more tax revenue for all public entities, the jail included. They know the value of our county jail, but they also don't want to shortchange the myriad of health and community-building elements the MAC contributes.
   The MAC is an excellent facility, likely one of the finest in the state. Our community's kids love it and use it, hundreds learning to swim via lessons in the summer or through school cooperation. Our best youth swimmers are already making splashes in statewide prep competitions (see the sports pages this week). Adults love and use it as well, and the expanding recreation programs will be a major positive to improve day-to-day life in Jefferson County for all.
   To me, the key element inspiring a yes vote for the levy is that it's temporary. It's essentially a five-year plan, an effort to put the facility on solid financial ground, for the first time since it opened.
   We need to find a way for the MAC to be economically sustainable. A five-year levy boost would do that, and enable the MAC (and hopefully property values) to grow to the point that, after five years, another such levy won't be needed.
   The beautiful aquatic center may be the showcase piece to our liveability pie we have in Madras. Its success is vital to our community's future. It's time to put it on firm financial ground. Vote yes.
   Now that it's nearing, the impending change from Mountain View Hospital to St. Charles Madras is starting to concern more and more people.
   The asset transfer agreement -- whereby Mountain View essentially gives St. Charles the entire complex and its equipment in exchange for the Bend-based organization's promise to keep it open and functioning -- was scheduled to be signed Oct. 23. But we were told on Monday that attorneys hadn't finished the paperwork. No doubt there are plenty of little details to iron out.
   It's been in the works for several months. What seems to be the major issue rankling many local residents is that we're essentially giving away the hospital -- transfering all the wealth of the building and equipment inside -- to St. Charles in exchange for their promise to operate it, to keep it open.
   We have a quality hospital board consisting of longtime members, many with extensive business backgrounds. I'm inclined to trust their judgment.
   Several people who have contacted me on the issue, though, are more cynical. They have questioned the advice the board is receiving, as for several years the hospital has contracted with St. Charles to provide management services, and the general manager is a St. Charles employee.
   Though officials have been talking about it for months, it still seems so sudden. How can we go from considering a $22.4 million expansion project to being more than $3 million in the red in less than a year?
   But turning over everything to St. Charles scares people. What if something happens to St. Charles? What if they're bought out someday? What guarantees do we have, what, if any, control will local residents continue to have?
   Whether it's St. Charles Madras or Mountain View Hospital, what really matters most is that the Madras hospital remains open and viable long into the future. But Jefferson County people want guarantees, security that their 45-year-old hospital -- one for which we've been paying property taxes since its inception, thus feel like we own -- won't vanish. Hopefully the details attorneys are hammering out will include such guarantees, and they'll be extrapolated in clear language that will calm Jefferson County residents.
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