FORKS — The Forks Aquatic Center is in need of repairs and the Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District has the money to do the work, but due to a quirk in the law the district is unable to touch its nearly $1 million in timber sales revenue.
Nedra Reed, chair of the Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District, estimated that it would cost about $125,000 to repair the roof, heat pumps and HVAC system, but because the district does not have a maintenance and operation levy it is not allowed to use timber revenue to maintain the building.
“It would be a shame to have come this far and try this hard … to have to close it because we have structural problems,” Reed said.
The district has been strapped for cash since its inception. The pool at 91 Maple Ave., opened in July 2005 after voters approved a $2.9 million bond issue, but in 2006 voters rejected a tax levy to fund operations.
The pool closed in September 2007 and didn’t reopen until 2011 when the district penned a public-private partnership with Health First Fitness Center.
Reed said the building has a number of issues that need to be addressed. She said it could cost up to $32,000 to repair the HVAC system and $60,000 for the roof and sides of the building. She said it could cost another $18,000 for a heat pump.
Reed said the district has close to $1 million in an investment account and that in 2023, when the bonds are paid off, that money will be available to use for repairs, but she fears waiting will lead to the building deteriorating further.
“If we had $125,000 … we could hold the building together,” she said. “In five years from now the building is going to be in so much worse shape than it is now.”
The issue stems from two conflicting interpretations of state law.
The Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District’s bond council had issued an opinion that the district can use the timber tax dollars for capital improvements.
The state Attorney General’s Office issued a conflicting opinion, Reed said. That opinion was that the district could not use timber taxes to repay a $255,000 loan from Clallam County that was used to buy rental houses and that timber tax revenues can only be used to pay debt services related to capital bonds.
The Attorney General’s Office issued that opinion in 2013 when then Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis asked the Board of County Commissioners to consider having the district repay the loan with timber taxes.
Following that opinion, the commissioners forgave the loan instead of waiting until 2023 when the money would be available.
Reed said that following that opinion it had been suggested the district should seek a $0.01 maintenance and operation levy so that it could access the timber funds, but the district has no intention of doing so.
“That to me reeks. That doesn’t work for me because we promised the community we wouldn’t,” Reed said. “That’s like trying to manipulate the system to access funds that are legitimately yours.”
Commissioner Bill Peach, who served on the district’s board at the time, said last week he is unsure what the solution is but he is interested in the commissioners discussing the issue in an upcoming work session.
“I think it’s amazing that the aquatic center has money but they can’t access it,” Peach said. “It’s an unusual situation because they received funds for the construction of the facility, but they did not receive approval for an operating levy.”
Peach said there may need to be action by the state legislature to address the “unique” issue.
“It’s quite a heartbreak to know the funds are in their account but they can’t access them,” he said.
Peach said the Forks Aquatic Center is one of the most popular places in Forks and gives youth an opportunity to participate in constructive activities.
When the commissioners discuss the issue, they may consider whether to ask the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for advice, Peach said.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said he is aware of the issues, but said his office cannot offer advice unless asked by the Board of County Commissioners. The Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District is not a client of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Nichols said the issue is complicated and that there isn’t a great body of law that provides guidance. He said it would be necessary to review case law and a close examination of legislative intent.
“We’re pretty early on in the process,” Nichols said. “We’re going to have to have a chance to hear from the commissioners first to figure out what if any advice we can provide.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].