Public unhappy with budget cuts
EVERETT — As the city ponders closing the Forest Park Swim Center, drastically changing Walter E. Hall Golf Course and handing off the city library system to Sno-Isle Libraries to fix a big budget deficit, it’s got the public talking.
Approximately 100 people attended last week’s second and final public input meeting on the budget deficit, held at Everett Community College’s Jackson Conference Center.
The city held these meetings to get feedback as it treads toward tackling its growing structural deficit. The deficit means the city is spending more money on everyday services than it is able to bring in.
Some of the choices to fix the budget mean sizable impacts to public services, including closing Forest Park Swim Center and shortening Walter E. Hall Golf Course. The city also is considering creating taxes on garbage and cable services.
The City Council will discuss some revenue options, potentially such as utility tax increases, at its June 4 meeting.
The public appears vociferous that it wants the pool to stay open, and a petition against its closure is floating around the community.
Closing the Forest Park Swim Center got on the list of proposals because it’s due for a renovation by 2020 that would cost $40 million the city doesn’t have. Closing the pool would save $410,000 a year in mostly labor costs.
South Everett resident Renee Peare attends hydro aerobics classes three times a week at the swim center.
“I’m annoyed because this has occurred because of benign neglect,” she said.
Pam Kepford, from Pinehurst, has been swimming at Forest Park almost every day since 1978. She has tried swimming at the Y centers in Mukilteo and Everett, but they do not meet her needs as well as the Forest Park center.
“I’m happy to pay to go to this pool,” she said.
Evergreen Dive Service is one private business that uses the Forest Park Swim Center regularly.
Owner Chad Kent said closing Everett’s pool would mean he’d move his business to the new aquatic center in Snohomish, and that would inconvenience his customers.
Kathy Christensen gathered signatures for the petition to keep the pool open at the first public input meeting on Thursday, May 8. At the second meeting, she did not have a petition because her first petition was already full.
“They’re hitting programs and services, but they should be attacking other things,” Christensen said last week of the city’s budget balancing suggestions.
An equally large crowd spoke against selling parcels of land containing portions of the Walter E. Hall Golf Course, which the city may reconfigure into an executive golf course and sell the leftover land to allow the city’s golf fund to pay off a significant portion of the $7.3 million debt the fund has to the city.
Some residents said that not as many people will golf at an executive course as a full 18-hole course.
“It will slow down play and create heartache for those that do play,” Bill Bond, from the Harborview-Seahurst-Glenhaven Neighborhood, said. “It’s as good a course as I’ve ever played on.”
Eastmont resident Bill Jessel is in disbelief that this is even being considered, as he has played golf at Walter E. Hall several times a week for over 30 years. He sometimes brings his 8-year-old grandson, Gino Garcia, who does not want to see the course change.
“It has good views and it’s a good course,” Garcia said.
Several people in attendance noted that the golf course has the potential to generate revenue for the city in the long term.
“If you cut the course, most people won’t go play there, so what will they cut next year?” South Everett resident Tom Maahs said. “My taxes are going up and I’m getting less return for it.”
City officials emphasized in their presentation that the process of fixing the structural budget deficit has many steps. The figures they are using now for the amount of money that can be saved are preliminary and based on a basic review of the services’ history.
After public input is gathered, the city will need to conduct a more in-depth study before deciding which options to go forward with.
“We’ve been in a downward slide for four years, and with each year we are waiting in the hope that our revenue changes,” Council President Jeff Moore said during last week’s council meeting. “These are tough decisions we have gone through.”