Crook aquatic center to be on ballot for 3rd time

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 26. 2007 5:00AM PST

As the Crook County Parks and Recreation District works on short-term fixes for its 54-year-old swimming pool, voters will be deciding whether to fund a replacement aquatic center for Prineville.

Two measures on the May ballot would build and operate a $10.7 million, three-pool swim center in downtown Prineville. This is the third time the question has appeared before voters, as similar proposals failed in 2002 and 2006.

Donna White, the chairwoman of Volunteers in Action, the political action committee supporting the measures, said the group decided to go back out for the bonds to keep “momentum going.”

“Many people approached all the Volunteers in Action and said they just couldn’t believe it – it missed by a very slim margin,” White said. “We wanted to see if maybe we went right back out there to the voters right away that maybe it would pass this time.”

In November’s election, the construction bond for the pool failed by about 150 votes out of 5,700. On the 2002 ballot, the construction measure went down by more than a two-to-one margin.

The double-majority rule poses a challenge for supporters in the May election. The requirement says that property-tax ballot measures have to both earn more than 50 percent approval and more than 50 percent voter turnout. Crook County historically has seen low voter turnout rates in off-year spring elections, according to the Clerk’s Office.

Only the roughly 8,000 voters in the Parks and Recreation District will vote on the bonds.

In the past, some voters said the plans – which now include an indoor therapy pool and lap pool as well as an outdoor pool – were too costly and elaborate. After the last election, members of Volunteers in Action decided to eliminate a multipurpose room from the center, dropping the cost by $1.3 million.

The tax rate for the bond to construct the new center is now 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, and the rate for the five-year operations levy is 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. If both measures pass, a person with a house assessed at $200,000 will pay $198 for both taxes combined. Crook County Chief Appraiser Brian Huber said the average assessed value of a residential property in Crook County is about $109,000.

But unlike in the previous two elections, the measures are no longer tied together, so that if one fails the other could still pass.

Since the last election, White said her group has been trying to address worries about the plans and how the levies would work. Some residents have expressed concerns about displacing the baseball diamond in Davidson Field on Court Street, the proposed site for the new aquatic center.

“There are people that are concerned that they’re losing a little piece of history,” White said. “We’re going to have a wall of honor within the swimming facility to honor the history of Davidson Park.”

She added that the Parks and Recreation District is planning a new baseball facility near the Crook County Fairgrounds.

White said the Volunteers in Action have raised about $140,000 in pledges toward the operations of the swim center.

Right now, the Parks and Recreation District is planning to open the current outdoor pool this summer, with opening day scheduled for June 14. But there are a few major issues facing the pool, like leaking and water backwash, that would cost $100,000 to fix. The Parks and Recreation District Board recently said it will not budget extra money to fix the pool for the next fiscal year, Business Manager Jeannie Searcy said.

The current pool costs about $50,000 a year to operate and is only open in the summer, Searcy said. A feasibility study for the new swim center put the annual operating cost at $500,000 to $600,000, which would be covered by the levy, pledges and user fees.

“We’re just bandaging it together and keeping our fingers crossed,” Searcy said. “Our plan is at least one more year.”

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