Sequim schools, aquatic center officials seek answers after tax measures fail
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Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center levy supporters, from left, Rhonda Rose and Judy Rhodes examine election returns while SARC board member Frank Pickering checks data on his phone on election night at the Clallam County Courthouse. Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — Officials with the Sequim School District and the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center are grappling to find solutions after property tax revenue measures failed to get enough votes for passage in Tuesday’s initial count of ballots.

Although the Clallam County Auditor’s Office had received by Wednesday another 1,913 ballots in special elections throughout the county, Auditor Shoona Riggs doesn’t expect the next count, scheduled Friday, to change any election outcomes.

Both the school district’s $49.3 million, 20-year construction bond and a six-year property tax levy for the recreation center, known as SARC, failed to reach the required 60 percent majority in Tuesday’s count.

Both may consider trying again — or they may consider other options.

The school district bond offered in Tuesday’s election was a second attempt. District voters rejected a much larger $154 million construction bond last year.

“The first thing we need to do is find out why this one did not pass,” said Brian Lewis, director of business services.

“We went through that process last year. We’re definitely going to try to understand what happened this time as well.

“That will take us some time,” he said.

“I would not think that we would have a plan in place for at least two or three months.”

SARC officials have said the center at 610 N. Fifth Ave. in Sequim cannot operate past Dec. 31, 2016, without passage of a levy.

Scott Deschenes, SARC executive director, said that date is a “best-case scenario.”

The center will not sell advance passes next year with so much uncertainty surrounding its future, he said.

The proposed levy was for an estimated 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property tax. It would have been collected beginning in 2016 and generated about $416,000 each of the next six years.

All options are on the table now, Deschenes said.

Commissioners may decide to place another levy on the ballot, discuss the possibility of collecting taxes as a metropolitan park district or simply close the community center, Deschenes said.

Commissioners planned to discuss the election results soon.

According to the early returns, 57.2 percent, or 6,610 votes, supported the levy while 42.8 percent, or 4,947 votes, rejected it.

Acquiring enough votes for passage “would be more of a miracle than the Seahawks beating Green Bay,” said Deschenes, referring to Seattle’s improbable comeback to win the NFC championship last month.

The biggest issue facing the Sequim School District is capacity, Lewis said.

It does not have the space to accommodate mandated science lab requirements, and the portable classrooms at the high school campus are beginning to break down, he added.

“The buildings do not have the capacity to house the students that we have and support a modern technology program,” Lewis said.

The Sequim School District’s proposed construction bond would have added classrooms and a new elementary school as upgraded facilities.

The $49.3 million, 20-year bond had 57.1 percent support — 6,691 yes votes to 5,026 no votes — as of Tuesday night.

It was proposed to fund the replacement of Helen Haller Elementary School, to build new classrooms at Greywolf Elementary and Sequim High schools, and to fund renovations to Sequim Community School.

The Sequim School Board may consider another bond proposition, Lewis said, but officials are cognizant of potential voter fatigue from an educational programs and operations levy that needs to be replaced in 2017.

The educational programs and operations levy represents about a quarter of the district’s operating revenue.

“We don’t want to do anything to put that at risk,” Lewis said.

“As difficult as it would be if this bond fails, we don’t want to compound that by losing the EP&O as well.”

The prospect of putting another levy proposition on the ballot is complicated by the $20,000 cost, Deschenes added.

“Every time we run an election, we cut off the time that we’re going to be open,” he said.

Another option would be to form a tax-collecting park district like the William Shore Memorial Pool District in Port Angeles. The pool in Port Angeles was transferred from the city to taxpayers after a vote in 2009.

SARC was built with a voter-approved bond in 1988 and was run for the first 13 years with funds as a junior taxing district.

Since then, it has relied on reserves.

The facility has pools, saunas, workout equipment and basketball and racquetball courts.

Proponents have said the money is needed to replace the heating and cooling system, repair vinyl siding and the roof, and reinforce the pool shell, as well as to improvement energy usage, cover an annual shortfall and keep fees affordable.

The levy is the first public funding sought by the district since 2003.

“We’re just going to do whatever we can and explore every option,” Deschenes said Wednesday.

SARC has more than 3,000 members from across the North Olympic Peninsula and draws nearly 250,000 visitors each year, officials have said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 11. 2015 7:17PM
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