NORTH BEND — The future of the North Bend City Pool is now in the hands of the voters.
The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to ask the voters to approve a tax levy that will fund the pool. Councilor Larry Garboden was the only member to vote no.
During a work session Monday, the council opted for a levy that will have the lowest impact on property owners in the city.
Council members considered four options for a potential levy. The options ranged from a package that will cover only basic maintenance and operations for the pool with a cost of 56 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to one that would cover maintenance, operations and capital improvements for the pool, city parks and the community center at a cost of $1.65 per $1,000 of assessed value.
City Administrator David Milliron said he supported the one with the lowest cost, saying if voters agree to cover the basic costs of keeping the pool open, the city can look at a variety of options for capital improvements.
Milliron said if the levy is approved, it will not cover the full loss of revenue from a vote that cut the public safety fund in half, but it will be enough to keep the pool open. Due to COVID closing the pool in 2020, the council voted to move some money from the pool fund to public safety to keep the police department staffed around the clock. Milliron explained that decision was made largely to save another $500,000 in revenue, which comes from a contract with the Mill Casino that requires police available 24 hours a day.
“After you take what you’ve done for the pool, you still have a deficit of $400,000 to $450,000,” Milliron said.
The city administrator said if voters decide to fund the pool, the city will find ways to fund capital improvements that need to be made before the pool can open. He said making the improvements before the vote would be foolish.
“It doesn’t make any sense to put any money in capital unless you know you have money to run maintenance and operations,” he said. “This takes it to the public and says do you want the pool.”
While the majority of council members agreed with Milliron, they admitted it will be tough to sell the tax package to voters.
“This is a difficult situation, and the optics are not good,” Councilor Susanna Noordhoff said. “There will be a portion of the public that says you transferred all the money away from the pool to support the police department right after we voted to turn down the second $15 charge. It could blow up in everybody’s faces. It’s bad optics. I’m just wondering is there any way around a levy?
“I just don’t want this to blow up and get turned down. If it gets turned down, what’s our alternative? Are we throwing in the towel on the pool? I don’t want to see that.”
Councilor Eric Gleason, the lone council member who supported a larger tax levy to fund the pool, parks and community center, said the council should act now.
“It seems like if we’re going to do something, the time to do it is right now because it’s closed,” he said. “This doesn’t just say the pool. This says the ability to do things within the city that we also would like to see.”
Gleason said the larger tax package would be easier to sell because more people use the parks and community center. He also said the council could explain how freeing up money in the general fund would allow the city to do things like improve roads and the library.
While Gleason supported the larger package, the rest of the council supported the idea of keeping the levy small. Milliron said he also supported the package with the smallest tax impact.
“It doesn’t relate to the general fund,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to say yes we want it or no we don’t.”
If a package is approved, Milliron said the city could quickly being capital improvements, with a goal of opening the pool quickly.
“The goal will be to try to open the pool as quickly as you can, even if it’s in a limited basis,” he said. “This would bring in what you need to run the pool.”
Noordhoff said the smallest package, called 1A during the discussion, had the most value.
“I see the value in option 1A because it shows we’re serious about keeping it open,” she said. “I think that’s a selling point. I see the value in the lowest painful option.”
After discussing the issue, each of the council members with the exception of Gleason chose to pursue the 56 cent package.
The measure will go in front of voters in May.