The upcoming advisory vote (which essentially tells the City Council how the community would like them to vote) will be on the November 6th ballot. I wanted to take a closer look into the Proposition. On the surface, it sounds good; no new taxes and we get a community center with a pool. But I like to dig deeper into political things, I never assume they are what they say they are.
Before I get to deep in the weeds, I should say that I haven't decided which way I'm personally voting on the issue. I just want to get the facts, as I know them, out there for others in the community to digest.
First, if you go and look at the verbiage according to the King County Elections office, it does say "No new taxes are expected to be levied to pay for the operations, maintenance or construction costs.". The word "expected" instantly frightens me. That means the city could levy taxes in the future if say, the center doesn't make ends meet or construction costs are higher than anticipated. Operational costs of the facility on a monthly basis (personnel, water, heating, etc.) are likely to be quite high (think 6 figures). If revenues from memberships doesn't make those ends meet, where will the city come up with the funds? Will they dip further into the cash reserves? Is the YMCA footing shortfalls?
I should start off by saying these "reserves" the City is using to pay for this are tax payer dollars...which means we're paying for this facility in taxes, wether old or new, its still tax payer dollars they are using to fund the construction. And its a large chunk of tax dollars, $25 million to be exact. The YMCA is contributing at least $5 million (in construction costs & they are paying for all furnishings and equipment and all operational expenses). I wonder if those operational costs are ongoing or have a time limit? I have an email into Jessi Richardson (Director of Parks & Rec for Sammamish) to find out. I've also asked Jessi to comment on the possibility that a future levy could be put into place if the center runs in the red or construction costs are greater than expected.
Currently, the City of Sammamish has an estimated $50 million in cash reserves. After funding the community center ($25 M) and their anticipated other purposes ($8M), the city estimates it will be left with $17M in reserve. If I could ask the city council members what else they might do with that money, I would. More sidewalks perhaps (I'm forever forced out on the street with my double stroller and 2 dogs)? The other item that worries me is that the City doesn't actually know how much it will cost to build the facility. The least expensive facility was calculated to be $25M in today's dollars. What if costs are substantially greater than the $25M the City is throwing in? Do they go into the cash reserves further, or do they end up raising taxes to pay for it? On the City's own website it says this:
"The total construction cost of a Community Center will depend on the size and scope of the preferred option. City officials and staff visited numerous existing facilities before the feasibility study began. The least expensive facility they saw – featuring both a community center and a pool – was in Federal Way. In today’s dollars, it would probably cost about $25 million to build. Depending on what is proposed, the estimated cost of a Sammamish facility could be substantially more than that. A consideration of funding options will be part of the decision-making process."
Its nice that we live in a city that isn't living in debt like so many are right now, but I can't help but wonder in these tough economic times if its right to spend $25M for a community center.
Now before you go & think I've made up my mind...I want to add some other thoughts I have. First, in my mail today I got a 2 page brochure on the vote "NO" campaign. I was curious, so I read it all. It was full of generalities & I wanted to know more, so I went to the website it offered (which is not the same vote no website that provided the statements on the King Co. election site, but does default back to the one from the brochure). It turns out the guy behind the vote no campaign is the Columbia Athletic Clubs Founder. He has two facilities in Sammamish. So he has a dog in this fight. I can understand his very livelihood could be threatened by a facility like this springing up in "his territory". He does make one good point though. The community center is tax exempt, which means it doesn't offer any revenue to the City of Sammamish. A business, like Columbia Fitness does. Second, a community center, and more specifically the pool, is needed. I grew up in a city (in Colorado) where there were pools everywhere. Is it any wonder that the likes of someone like Missy Franklin grows up there and becomes a phenom? You can't turn out Olympians without facilities to learn and train in. I'm not suggesting that by building the community center that Sammamish is going to start spitting out Olympians, but they have to come from somewhere, why not here?
I do think swimming in general is a life skill, and I find it challenging to find facilities here in town that offer a chance for my two young girls to learn to swim. We've resorted to taking them to Bellevue where our athletic club is, but trust me, I'd much rather trek to 228th to do it!
So here I stand at the crossroads on how to vote. I just hope that everyone will take time to research the facts and not just concentrate on filling in the bubbles on the Presidential & Gubernatorial races on their ballots!
I became aware of one other "no" campaign website. The site offers very little information & hasn't been updated in a few weeks, but does offer some interesting questions as it pertains to Newcastle's funding of their community center (which cost the City nothing). The site is: www.ysohigh.org
I did receive a response from the city today (10/18/12) with regards to my taxation questions. I know full well that the City always can ask for a levy, but my guess is that after all the touting their doing saying they won't, that a levy would never pass. I'm personally feeling like the liklihood of a tax increase to pay for the facility is very small. Here's a cut & paste of the email:
The answers to your questions are as follows:
- The YMCA would cover any shortfalls. That arrangement would last for the duration of the operating agreement, which is expected to be for a term of 40 years.
- Since the YMCA would cover all operating expenses, the city would have no need to raise taxes if there was a shortfall.
The city’s share of the construction funding – approximately $25 million – would come from a portion of existing reserves. If the project were to go forward, no new taxes would be levied to pay for construction.
City of Sammamish