Jefferson County to look at taxing district for pool

Commissioners ask staff for more information on forming special fund

PORT TOWNSEND — With many questions remaining about how and where a new aquatic facility in Jefferson County might be built, the Board of County Commissioners directed staff to look into creating a Public Facilities District and to work with the City of Port Townsend to split the cost of the independent financial review.

Public Facilities Districts, or PFDs, are countywide bodies with taxing authority to generate revenue for public facilities. Supporters of a new aquatic facility have recommended the formation of such a district in Jefferson County as a way of paying for the project.

Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to have staff look into the formation of a district and to develop a plan with the City of Port Townsend to split the cost of the $15,000 independent financial feasibility study required by the state Department of Commerce.

District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour was the lone no vote, saying she was not comfortable with the current proposals for the pool facility.

“I’m not that far down the road on feeling like it’s the right thing to do,” Eisenhour said. “I’m not convinced that a PFD is our only best path forward, and I’m not sure a countywide vote of anything is the mechanism that we need to fund a pool in Port Townsend.”

District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton, who previously voiced concerns about a countywide PFD being used to pay for a pool located in Port Townsend, said he supported investigating creating the body and beginning a financial review.

“We understand the risk better if we go down the road of financial review,” Brotherton said.

District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean, who sits on the steering committee that recommended the PFD, said she understood the concerns about the project’s funding and location but added the new PFD board could potentially make recommendations about other locations for the pool.

“We have never talked about funding an aquatic center in the county, never considered putting any resources toward that,” Dean said. “These are the kinds of things that an appointed board could look at.”

But while many in the county say they support building a new pool, many have questioned the proposed plan, funding mechanism and location proposed by the project’s steering committee.

Several entities in Jefferson County have been working since February to come up with a plan to replace the aging pool at the Mountain View Commons in Port Townsend with a new aquatics facility projected to cost about $37 million to complete.

Many county residents — Eisenhour and Brotherton included — have voiced concern that locating the pool in Port Townsend would make the facility largely inaccessible to most county residents who would still be asked to pay for it through a countywide sales tax enacted by the PFD.

The steering committee has recommended that, once created, the PFD could place a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax before voters for approval.

The Port Townsend City Council approved the steering committee’s recommendations last month, but at a Nov. 21 meeting, county commissioners declined to support the proposal and urged the committee to look at alternative options.

County staff will bring more information regarding a PFD to commissioners at their next meeting on Dec. 18.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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