Saturday, May 18, 2024

Leavenworth pool faces uncertain future with expiration of 6-year levy

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LEAVENWORTH – The Upper Valley Park and Recreation Service Area (PRSA) Board and Friends of Leavenworth Pool (FOLP) held a special meeting on Apr. 17 to discuss ways to secure a financially stable future for the community pool as it nears the expiration of a six-year maintenance and operations levy (M&O).

This fall, the public will have the option to vote to increase the property tax levy to 15 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, maintain the 11-cent levy chosen in 2018, or deny the renewal altogether.

The levy provides the pool with a majority of its funding, which means if the levy renewal does not pass this fall, it could put the pool at risk of permanent closure. The responsibility would be put on the City Council to decide whether to close the pool or divert other city funds to keep the pool in operation.

During the special meeting, PRSA Board and FOLP strategized ways to educate the public and reignite community-wide excitement in the pool. The group discussed hosting community events, such as an opening day cook-off, as well as other local incentives.

“We want to build enthusiasm and culture back around the pool to support the levy. So we can keep on doing it’s thing: maintaining. But again, the hope is in the future, that a good culture, a good crowd, is going to go, “Wow, we're really excited about a 25-year plan, or 50-year plan, to take it to the next level,’” said FOLP member Brian Decker.

During the last renewal vote in 2018, the city asked voters to consider raising the levy from 11 to 14 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, in order to address maintenance needs, such as resurfacing the pool. The voters chose only to renew the levy at 11 cents. 

Since then, Steiner says the levy rate has decreased to just under 8 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. This adjustment is due to Washington state's levy limit regulations, which restrict a district's total tax revenue increase to one percent per year. As property values rise, the tax rate is typically adjusted downward to ensure compliance with this one percent limit.

If voters were to approve the renewal at 11 cents, she estimates property taxpayers would see about a 25 percent increase in the M&O levy portion of their tax bills compared to what they are paying this year. 

“With this restoration of the 11, we're getting above and beyond the existing annual operations and maintenance costs, including the increased wages, and it's starting to build a small reserve,” said Steiner during the special meeting.

However, the pool operates on tight margins, and is continuously incurring expensive maintenance costs as it ages. Currently, city staff believe the pool’s pump is likely to fail by the end of the season, which will cost an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 to replace, according to Steiner. The city has had to apply for a Recreation Conservation Office grant in order to cover the cost.

“Pools should have a reserve…I really want people to understand that a well functioning, healthy pool has a reserve, [and] has program management along with pool management capabilities,” said FOLP member Kurt Peterson.

According to PRSA and FOLP members, the 15 cent rate could not only help the pool build a bigger reserve, but could help the revamp the pool, covering necessary maintenance as well as expanding the fenceline, adding shaded areas, and even installing newer pool features, such as a slide.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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