Chelan County Commissioners Question Funding Of Aquatic Center Study
Chelan County Commissioners are considering their involvement in an economic impact study on the proposed Regional Aquatic Center for Chelan and Douglas counties.
The estimated $300,000 study has a commitment for roughly a third of its financing from the regional Public Facilities District, with the other two thirds thought to be coming from the two counties.
Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay thinks the counties are being pushed into financing a study that the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee should be paying for.
"There's no representation from the two largest cities, yet the two largest cities would probably receive the greatest benefit, based on the location of the (aquatic) center," said Overbay. "But they're not a payer on the feasibility study. They're relying on the counties to stand that up. And so that gives me a little consternation as well."
Chelan Commissioners believe they'll be asked to commit to financing the economic impact study at a meeting called for by State Senator Brad Hawkins on December 7th.
Ovebay said a more equitable way to fund the study would be for Chelan and Douglas Counties along with Wenatchee and East Wenatchee to each commit $50,000 to finance the other two thirds of the study’s costs after the Public Facilities District pledge of $100,000.
The regional aquatic center is currently pegged to be built just north of East Wenatchee in an area known as Wenatchi Landing.
Commissioners discussed the aquatic center project and the economic impact study Monday with staff.
Chelan County Economic Development Director Sasha Sleiman said the study, which is being handled by the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority, would likely include other locations in addition to Wenatchi Landing.
She said the Port Authority would also likely have a clearer picture of the scope of what the study would look into.
Overbay said he’s heard from mayor of four or five smaller cities in Chelan County that they’re concerned about the study not considering the needs of their individual local swimming pools.
He also questioned the Public Facilities District commitment to pledge $100,000 toward the study, when the district’s function is to be financially responsible solely for the Town Toyota Center.
Sleiman pointed out that staff from the state Senate budget committee informed the county that the Public Facilities District already draws one-tenth of one-percent in sales tax money, and a community can only take two-tenths of one percent for all such projects.
She noted the aquatic center would not be sufficiently financed without taking a full two-tenths on one-percent, and said there are question remaining to be answered at the state level.
Senator Hawkins has said he’s looking into legislation that would allow for the formation of an aquatic center district that could, on its own, use two-tenths of one percent in sales tax money.
The local district would include all the cities and unincorporated areas of both Chelan and Douglas counties. All the jurisdictions together could raise between $10-$12 million a year to finance the project if two-tenths of one-percent sales tax was used.
Any use of such of such money and any increase in the sales tax would have to go before a public vote.
Commissioner Bob Bugert said there are so many different perspectives on the aquatic center proposal and so many unanswered questions about it that an extensive dialogue is needed among all parties involved.
He said it would be impossible to be prepared as a community with any plan before Senator Hawkins introduces any legislation in the next legislative session.
The Regional Port is currently looking at other communities in Washington, including Bellville, that have their own successful aquatic centers.
Sleiman said the aquatic center, if completed, could compete with a similar facility in the Seattle area, specifically in Federal Way, for very large-scale events.
"If we can build a facility to compete with that, especially because we're centrally located, the number of competitions we could draw is huge," Sleiman.
She also said Wenatchi Landing is the favored location for the aquatic center because of its available space for hotel build out.