Council wants more info on pool agreement
SNOHOMISH - The City Council wants more information about a potential agreement to help pay the water bill for the planned Snohomish School District’s aquatic center.
The council last week was split 3-3 on a vote to approve an interlocal agreement, which would have committed the city to paying for the pool facility’s water and sewage bill for the next 30 years, the planned life of the facility.
New Councilman Paul Kaftanski asked for more information on the city’s financial commitment and other issues before he could vote, postponing the decision for now.
Council members Lynn Schilaty, Greg Guedel and Mayor Karen Guzak voted in favor of the agreement. Councilmen Derrick Burke, Dean Randall and Tom Hamilton joined Kaftanski with “no” votes.
The pool is expected to bring activity to the Pilchuck District, an area planned for a mix of residential, business and recreational opportunities, Guedel said.
The school district is planning on building the facility at the Maple Avenue Campus on Glen Avenue.
The importance of the aquatic center is “far beyond the cost of water,” he said.
The district, Guedel said, needs a project that would “actually bring people here” to spend money.
“This is it, this is the project,” he said, adding that the aquatic center would draw thousands of people per week in foot traffic, which would become the market for other businesses in the Pilchuck District.
“If the people and the money are already here, that’s an incentive for builders to invest their capital,” he said.
Audience members who spoke at the meeting weren’t sold on the agreement.
Dave Douglas said when voters approved the $268 million school bond in 2008, which included the pool project, it was in “different times,” during a “different economy.”
Additionally, “it’s a larger, more costly facility now,” Douglas said, and he feels the city’s promise to pay the water bill is reactionary.
The district is redesigning the project when a financial analysis showed the pool would cost more to operate than it would generate in revenue. The original estimate for the project was $22 million.
The city originally sent a letter to the district promising to pay the water bill in order to “bring the pool back home,” as Guzak put it, when the school district was looking at possibly building in the county instead of within city limits to save on utility costs.
The idea was one of many the district considered last year in order to generate revenue or cut operating expenses.
“Outrageous (water and sewer utility fees) are already a sensitive issue in our city and this appears to be another double tax,” Douglas said. “We’re giving our money away even though we’re already paying higher utility rates.”
Davis proposed that if the city subsidizes the pool, then city residents be given a break on admission, much like the Everett Public Library. City residents get free library cards, but county and residents of other cities pay to use the library.
Davis also was concerned that the district will have no incentive to conserve water if it’s not paying the bill, a concern that was echoed by a couple of council members before deciding to postpone a vote on the agreement.
He called the interlocal agreement “an open-ended blank check.”
A staff report shows the city would pay $92,200 the first year, and the cost would increase in future years, ending at $302,200 in year 30, a total of more than $6 million over the life of the pool.
The money would come out of the city’s general fund, which pays for day-to-day operations of the city.
Last week, City Manager Larry Bauman told the Tribune it was too early to say how the city might fund the pool’s water bill.
“As there are major questions about this agreement and the project that are still unresolved, I really can’t answer questions about how the costs would be accommodated in our future budgets,” Bauman said. “Most likely these costs would be at most for a partial year of operations in 2013 and possible for a full year no earlier than 2014. These dates are guesses at this time, however,” he said.
Hamilton said there were “lots of reasons” he was “extremely uncomfortable” with the agreement in last week’s draft form, one of which being that there is “only a mention” of having a future memorandum of understanding on giving citizens access to the pool when the district isn’t using it.
“In essence, that’s what we’re doing is we’re buying access for our citizens,” he said.
The agreement, he noted, also lacked a sunset clause, a paragraph that brings the contract to an end.
“Twenty eight years from now, no one’s going to remember, so put in a sunset clause,” Hamilton said.
He said he didn’t know if the pool would be the “economic powerhouse that some other council members think,” but he supports the idea of keeping the pool within the city.
Schilaty said she doesn’t think the water bill has to be as high as the current estimates say. She resurrected an earlier idea to split the aquatic center’s water usage into two different types of meters, which would reduce costs.
Bauman said he would need a lot of school district input to answer all of the council’s questions. The next possible date the issue could reappear on the council’s agenda is Tuesday, Feb. 7. Council agendas are available on the city’s website, www.ci.snohomish.wa.us., the Friday prior to the meeting.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published Feb. 1, 2012