SARC to ask for tax levy for first time in more than a decade

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Voters will be asked in February for a property tax levy to fund operations and maintenance at the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center, the facility’s first public funding request since 2003.

The Clallam County Park and Recreation District 1 board of commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday evening to put the levy question on the ballot.

It would be expected to generate about $416,000 for each of the next six years.

Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the possibility of a levy request Wednesday but opted instead to vote to put the measure on the February ballot.

The measure would require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.

“The board has gone over and over and over this for years,” said Frank Pickering, chairman of the facility’s board of directors, after the vote.

“It was time to act, so we acted.”

Pickering said the money is needed to pay for replacement of aging equipment that could soon require costly repairs.

“If our air handler goes out, there goes 70 percent of our reserves,” Pickering said, noting that the district has a half-million dollars in its reserve fund.

Built with a $2 million voter-approved bond in 1988, SARC has more than 3,000 members from across the North Olympic Peninsula and draws nearly 250,000 visitors each year.

It has not used tax revenue since 2003.

According to former director David McArthur, who attended the meeting, the facility, known by the acronym SARC, had a reserve of more than $1 million 10 years ago, and that was too much.

“But we don’t need any more reserves,” he said.

Since 2010, SARC has lost $330,078.18 on its operations, using that reserve to offset operating losses.

“The money we had just drifted away,” McArthur said.

If approved, property owners within the park district would pay 12 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value for each of the next six years.

“There’s not a public pool in the United States that pays for itself,” said board member Gil Goodman.

A 12-cent levy would add about $26.04 to the annual property tax bill of the owner of a $217,000 house, the average value in the district.

SARC took in $946,355.44 in revenue last year while spending $997,661.81 on operations for a net loss of $51,306.37.

The levy revenue also would pay for efficiency improvements to the facility, Pickering said.

He pointed to water used to clean the pool that is now flushed into the city’s sewer system that could instead be recycled into SARC for other uses.

“That would save us a tremendous amount,” he said.

Homeowner John Lash worried the new tax would be too expensive for his home budget.

“Everything seems to be going up except my retirement,” he said. “I don’t want you in my pocket any more because when that’s gone, I’m gone.”

The facility’s 2013 revenue total was the highest since it took in $884,337.37 in 2010.

Pickering attributed that to initiatives spearheaded by SARC Executive Director Scott Deschenes to boost attendance.

“He has moved aggressively to get more families, teens, 23-30-somethings coming to SARC as well as continuing to appeal to all the long-term patrons,” Pickering said.

Some in attendance at Wednesday’s board meeting questioned the need for an operating levy, asking whether the board had a “Plan B.”

“Plan B is, if we don’t get any additional money, SARC will close,” Pickering said.

Others asked whether commissioners had considered increasing user fees.

Pickering and Deschenes said rate increases often decrease the facility’s revenue because people cancel their memberships.

Advocates have created a new campaign committee called Citizens for SARC, with former SARC board member Susan Sorensen as chair.

For more information, email citizensforSARC@gmail.com.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 10. 2014 7:52PM
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