Vote for Jennifer
The upcoming school board election is presenting us an important choice. Jennifer Zbyszewski’s positions are clear on her website and social media posts — she is focused on the success of all students, period. Her opponent has a lot of signs around the valley, but many of us don’t know much about him. He has made his very socially conservative priorities clear on his Facebook page, targeting kids who don’t fit into a mold and wanting to dictate curriculum. Our students need and deserve better. It’s a clear choice. I’m voting for Jennifer.
Need a better alternative
Even though I will not vote for Proposition No. 1, Methow Aquatics Center, I want to thank and honor all of you who with Friends of the Pool who have diligently worked over the past 20 years to raise the $400,000 necessary to maintain our Wagner Memorial Pool. Your efforts have allowed our community to enjoy the benefits of a seasonal pool for two decades.
Fifty-six years ago, the Wagners built the pool because they wanted our children to learn how to swim in order to be safe in the lakes and rivers surrounding our valley. Additionally, many children have joined our trophy-winning swim team, become lifeguards and swim coaches, and thoroughly enjoyed the goodness of a summertime swimming pool which has provided aerobic classes and physical fitness opportunities for all of us.
In 2019, when it was learned that it was more expensive to continue to repair the pool, Friends of the Pool began to research how to replace our pool. They hired professional consultants who proposed three different options:
• An outdoor seasonal pool costing from $6.8 million to $11.8 million to build with an annual operational cost (deficit) of $75,000-$125,000. (This is a replacement option that will be built on its current site.)
• Two indoor pools costing from $9.8 million to $18.4 million to build with an annual operational cost (deficit) of $550,000-$625,000.
• Two larger indoor pools costing $17.9 million to $24.3 million to build with an annual operational cost (deficit) of $650,000-$725,000.
Since the second and third alternatives require 2.5 acres of land, a different piece of property must be found and purchased to meet their size requirements. This property is not included in their projected building costs.
I appreciate Friends of the Pool’s big dreams, and that they want the best for us, but I cannot afford any more taxes, particularly when the second and third alternatives require an additional $600,000 every year just to operate the pool, and an unknown amount to buy a new piece of property.
I hope that we can find a way to replace our seasonal Wagner Memorial Pool on the property already owned in Twisp.
Doing the math
The Methow Aquatics Center study states significant constraints for the project. The permanent population in the taxing area is small. The study is hopeful the second homeowners and the approximate 475,000 visitors will provide a sufficient market. The study notes several market constraints: The small population in the school district will require a strong use from other market segments; the communities in Okanogan outside the Methow School District already have their own outdoor pools which will limit interest in the pool; local average income is lower than the state average which will have a restriction on fees and use; and the aquatic center will not be able to cover its cost of operation by revenues generated from the facility regardless of whether the pool is indoor or outdoor.
The operational shortfall of $600,000 ($563,095) will require a levy rate of $0.38 per $1,000 of property value. The Metropolitan Park District (MPD) will incur debt which will be funded through a levy. The MPD will most likely be able to raise $10 million of the $20 million cost for the Aquatics Center through partnerships, leaving a dept of $10 million. The annual debt service requires a levy rate of up to $0.48 per $1,000 of the total Methow Valley School District assessed value of $2,717,342,019. Doing the math which needs to include the operational expenses levy, the MPD will exceed its debt limit of $0.75 per $1,000 by $0.11 per $1,000 as it needs a levy rate of $0.86 per $1,000.
The MPD is an attractive route because it can assess a levy rate of up to $0.75 per $1000 assessed value without voter approval. That is about $2 million annually. When you vote for Proposition 1 you are voting to accept this taxing power, not the pool. It is better to say no on Proposition 1 and ask that the Friends of the Pool come up with a realistic vision and secure a different way to finance a new pool.
Time to pay our share
Proposition 1 on the ballot for November is not to build a pool. It is to keep the possibility of having a public swimming pool available. The Town of Twisp has provided a public swimming pool for the entire Methow Valley community for years. They had funds from the Wagner Foundation to help do this. These funds are running out in 2024 the Town of Twisp will no longer fund the operation of a pool, which has major structural problems.
Proposition 1 will form a taxing district funded by property taxes from the entire Methow Valley School District. The district, if formed, will be run and be accountable to a board of commissioners appointed by the Twisp and Winthrop town councils and the county commissioners. This commission will then with the input from the community decide the best options for providing a public swimming pool. The commissioners will have the authority to determine what the needs are and to raise the funds to make it happen. They can accept donations, write grants and if necessary run a bond levy to secure funds to build a pool.
If there is not a taxing district formed to take on the task of determining what the community wants in a swimming pool, where it will be at, and at what cost, and then to operate and maintain such pool we will not have a public swimming pool. The Metropolitan Park District was determined to be the most stable type of entity allowed by state law to take on this task. It will have the authority to tax what is needed to operate and maintain the pool up to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed. The MPD can also negotiate with the Town of Twisp to continue operating the current pool as long as it is viable.
We will not have a public swimming option available in the community without a taxing district to support its operation. We should be thankful the Town of Twisp has supported the pool operation all of these years for the entire Methow Valley. It is time for us who do not pay property tax in Twisp and who want a public swimming option to pay our share.
Another initiative needed
Regarding Proposition 1: There are glaring omissions on both sides of the pool. Both parties likewise have some points. Twisp needs of a new pool facility! The service this provides is central to our local well-being. It provides a safe place for low-income families to send their children during summer work hours. Survey the signage placement around the valley, it is upper middle-class liberals who are for Proposition 1 and the opposite who appear to be against; there are exceptions.
So why? This is as simple as who populates the pool in the mornings vs. the afternoon. In general, greater privilege attends mornings during swim lessons, and a greater diversity attends afternoon open swim. This represents the conflict in Proposition 1. “In favor” want a facility that supports a swim team. “Against” don’t want another yuppie footprint in the valley for Wetsiders. Where the opposition has a point to this diehard liberal, is that as Proposition 1 stands, it is a SafeCo Field initiative. You remember, for the Mariners? The people wanted a stadium for their team. It increased the rate of gentrification in SoDo Seattle and the displacement of then residents of the area. The parallel with our SwimCo Pool seems a little too direct.
This is not related to opposing an increase in property taxes. Property taxes are one of the least-regressive taxations we have when compared to things like sales tax.
I have not decided whether I am for or against it for that singular reason.
Let there be a tax initiative to create a new Twisp pool facility! We are in dire need of it!
However, as currently written, it smells too green and too much like displacement for me to fully trust it. For the people that want an aquatic center for a swim team, I suggest SafeCo’s next-door and privately funded Quest Field. Seattle got its Sounders/Seahawks a good home: you too can have a good home for your swim team. As for the Twisp pool, let there be an initiative that keeps the pool’s social service to low-income children central to its design and mission.
A better solution
Ever since the signs went up urging residents to vote for or against a new pool, I have been asking friends and neighbors what they know about this proposal. I learned that this vote is not entirely about a new pool. It is about the formation of a metropolitan parks district to fund a new pool. Metropolitan parks districts are junior taxing districts. They have the ability to impose property taxes up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Let that sink in.
I am not against levies. I am also not against the construction of a new pool. I was very much in favor of the Winthrop Rink and the new Winthrop library. These kinds of amenities make our community better. The difference between the pool and these other projects is that the ice rink and library had broad private support, significant grants that created the bulk of the funding and transparent plans. People knew what they were going to get.
Some say the current proposal “ensures planning and accountability.” The current proposal is the exact opposite. There is no specific plan — or at least it is not anywhere that I can locate. They want us to vote for the unknown — vote for the proposition and then we’ll tell you what we’re going to do. This is not transparency and it is definitely not planned.
I appreciate that there is a group of dedicated volunteers who care about the pool. However, the Friends of the Pool need to sharpen their pencils a bit and tell us exactly what they want to do with our money. They need to first create a truly transparent plan for a modest but modern facility that will meet the needs of this community. They need to get grants and private donations to fund a majority of the pool project and then most likely the public will be amenable to funding operating costs but only after we confidently know details about the proposed end result.
I am voting no for this creation of a metropolitan parks (aquatic) district but I look forward to seeing future pool proposals.
A severely divided government is dysfunctional and leads to disasters such as we see happening in Israel right now. Will the idiots on both extremes in the U.S. get a hint?