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Camas officials, residents wade into pool controversy

Voters to decide Nov. 5 on $78M bond for new community center, park renovations

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published: October 20, 2019, 6:03am
6 Photos
A rendering of how the competition and leisure pool at the proposed Camas community center could look. (City of Camas)
A rendering of how the competition and leisure pool at the proposed Camas community center could look. (City of Camas) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Mayor Shannon Turk stays away from social media, but she knows if there’s a cheerful sign on her door when she gets home, it was a rough day for her online.

“I’ve been coming home to a lot of signs lately,” Turk said. “My daughter makes them. She sees a lot of that stuff. She leaves them to let me know I’m loved and appreciated.”

Turk is coming up on the one-year anniversary of her appointment as mayor, and things have gotten increasingly testy around this city of 24,000. On Nov. 5, residents will vote on a bond for up to $78 million to build a community center. The city council’s decision to ask residents to foot such a large bill, and how they’ve relayed information to the public, has some people angry.

Residents say they haven’t seen this level of citizen engagement on previous issues, nor this level of vitriol directed toward city leaders. In the last few weeks, three residents have launched write-in campaigns for the November election, including two candidates for mayor, based on how the city has handled the lead-up to the bond vote. Others have taken to social media, council meetings and other public forums to express their distrust toward those in charge.

“I don’t understand the anger,” Turk said. “There is so much anger, like we’ve already imposed the taxes. We’re just asking people if they would support this.”

Camas bond breakdown

A breakdown of where the $78 million from the Camas bond would go:

Community center project ($72 million)

Building: $37.2 million

On-site improvements: $6.4 million

Off-site improvements: $5.8 million

Design, permitting, furnishings, fitness equipment and contingency: $19 million

Sales tax: $3.6 million

Sports field retrofits ($6 million)

Forest Home Park renovation: $2.7 million

Prune Hill Sports Park renovation: $2.3 million

Dorothy Fox Park renovation: $1 million

To pass the facilities bond, the first the city has run in nearly 20 years, will require a supermajority of 60 percent plus one vote. The last time Camas ran a bond levy was in March 2000, when voters approved $7.9 million to upgrade the library. That came after the same measure failed in November 1999.

Trust issues

The mood was tense at the Camas State of the Community address on Sept. 19. Turk was standing in front of a crowd packed into the Lacamas Lake Lodge, fielding questions, when a man started shouting at her about the price of the community center. He was immediately shut down by moderator Doug Quinn, president of the Camas school board.

Someone then asked Turk what she would say to opponents of the bond. She asked that they trust her. The same man shouted “No!” and left shortly thereafter. However, Turk’s answer has become sort of a rallying call for those opposed to the bond. Now the mere use of the word “trust” can elicit snickers in certain circles around Camas.

The anger has been building for a long time. In 2018, councilors decided not to open the historic Crown Park pool for the summer after learning that bringing the pool into compliance with health and safety codes would cost between $481,000 and $710,000. Estimates for a complete renovation were in the range of $1.69 million to $2.19 million, almost enough to build an entirely new pool.

The county’s only public outdoor swimming pool — which opened on May 22, 1954, and was last used in the summer of 2017 — was demolished earlier this year. Councilors have spent the last few years working through various ideas on how to bring a water feature back to the city. There was talk of replacing the pool with a splash pad, building a new pool and, ultimately, running a bond to build a new 78,000-square-foot community center with a leisure pool, competitive pool, gym and community rooms. Bond money would also go toward renovating five sports fields around the city.

Jim Perdew has lived near Crown Park for 30-plus years, and calls the park the “heart of Camas.” He labeled the city’s effort to look at replacing the pool a “bait and switch” designed to get a large community center built.

“Those people (should) be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “It’s political lies at its best.”

Jane Hansen of Camas agreed. She called the effort “more than garden variety greed” on the part of city officials.

“For that price, we should be getting an entire golf course and clubhouse or something like that,” she said.

Dave Lattanzi is a former Camas school board member who has sat on a number of committees looking at the future of the city. Lattanzi said he appreciates that city leaders are looking at how to enhance the city, but he doesn’t think the desires of residents are getting heard.

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“They’re not listening,” he said. “They wouldn’t be pushing a $78 million bond if they were listening.”

Many who attended an Oct. 2 open house felt like city officials didn’t want to hear from them, as they weren’t allowed to ask questions in a large group setting. Instead, city officials answered predetermined questions, then split attendees into smaller groups, where they could question city officials.

“It was a forum to inform people,” City Administrator Pete Capell said. “The purpose was not to give people a chance to just get up and attack it.”

Turk said she wishes the city could have sought out more public input on the bond measure. If she could go back in time, she said she would have cut off talks with Washougal on a possible joint community center last winter, instead of waiting until this spring.

“That extra three or four months could’ve been used to talk to our citizens more,” Turk said. “I think everything has felt rushed, so people are reacting and trying to understand everything at once.”

The path to $78 million

One question many in Camas are asking: How did the city go from looking at renovating the Crown Park pool for around $2 million to asking for more than $75 million?

Turk said the bond would fund many highly requested improvements to the city. Capell said there was talk of phasing the project, but said that presented other issues, such as which projects would be built first? Or what happens if funding comes through for only one phase, leaving the rest of the project unbuilt?

Because of those reasons, and because the council decided that since pools, more community meeting space and playfield renovations are all things residents have asked for, he said they’d see if they could fit it all in one larger bond request.

“I don’t know if it was the right strategy,” Turk said. “I have a lot of people telling me it wasn’t.”

Plans for the community center aren’t finalized. The city has focused on placing the facility on city-owned property off Lake Road across the street from the entrance to Heritage Park. The 6 1/2 -acre site was listed as the favorite among three sites included on a feasibility study the city commissioned in 2001. But it’s possible the facility could be placed somewhere else.

The bond asks for up to $78 million. Turk compared it to a loan for a house. If the projects don’t add up to $78 million, the city won’t collect that much. Likewise, the final cost could be offset by grants or donations.

The city estimates the total cost for the center at $72 million, including $37.2 million for construction and $13 million for soft costs, such as design, permits, equipment and furniture. There are also some off-site developments included in the project, such as a $1.3 million expansion of parking at Heritage Park, $2.1 million for a traffic signal at Northwest Lake Road and Northwest Sierra Street and $2.4 million for Lake Road improvements.

The intersection of Northeast Lake Road and Northeast Everett Road, which connects north shore, south shore and downtown, will be reconstructed beginning next year. The city will add a roundabout to the busy intersection. Residents have questioned plopping down a large community center so close to the intersection, given its penchant for backing up traffic.

The remaining $6 million is planned for field renovations split between Forest Home Park, Prune Hill Sports Park and Dorothy Fox Park.

Lattanzi feels like the sports field renovations were included to gain support for the bond, since a lot of residents care about athletic fields.

“Neighborhood parks aren’t meant to be sports complexes,” he said.

He also feels like those parks can use other amenities before adding playing fields. While taking his grandchildren to neighborhood parks, he said he’s been asking others what they want at their parks. He said people at Dorothy Fox have said they want more picnic tables, a basketball hoop that doesn’t face the sun, and a covered area, similar to Grass Valley Park. Lattanzi also wondered why the bond money wasn’t going to Crown Park, where he would like to see the portable toilets replaced with permanent restrooms.

The dollar impacts

According to information from the city, if the bond passes, residents will pay an additional $1.04 per $1,000 in assessed property value starting in 2021 and lasting for the next 20 years. The city projects residents’ tax rates for that year will total $14.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value when including state, local and school taxes. That would increase to $14.83 per $1,000 of assessed value by 2039, according to the city’s tax projections.

That equates to adding roughly $474 per year to the tax bill of a home with an assessed property value of $464,400, which is the median assessed value in Camas, according to the city. For 2021, that homeowner would pay $6,800 in property taxes, and by the city’s estimate those taxes would increase to $10,034 in 2039.

Both the total of the bond figure and tax impacts had residents concerned that passage of the bond could price people out of their homes. Those fears weren’t quelled when the city put out some financial analysis on the projected community center. The earliest the center could open would be in 2022. According to information from the city, the center would operate at an annual loss of $843,496. Opponents of the bond say that’s too large of a financial hit.

City officials, however, say that figure is a bit misleading. Capell said about $400,000 of that figure will be chopped off because the center will assume some existing parks and recreation programs. The loss could also be lessened by changing the way the city accounts for shared costs. That $843,496 figure was a “worst-case scenario,” Capell said.

Capell said that city officials know they’ll have to subsidize the community center. The city spent about $100,000 per year to subsidize the Crown Park pool when it was operating, he said.

Residents are also concerned about information from the city on possible membership prices, which were originally leaked by a group of residents working on an anti-bond campaign at www.notocamaspoolbond.com. Shortly after, the city released the same information.

According to the city’s information, annual membership for city residents could cost $450 for adults, $675 for adult couples, $800 for families, $350 for youths and seniors and $525 for senior couples. The city anticipates most of the center’s revenue coming from monthly passes, which could cost $41 for adults, $59 for adult couples, $70 for families, $32 for youths and seniors and $47 for senior couples, according to the city’s information. The city anticipates nonresidents would pay 25 percent more.

Despite the push back, Turk remains optimistic about the vote, and especially about what the community center would do for Camas.

“I’m not thinking about it in terms of dollars and cents,” Turk said. “I’m thinking of it in terms of having a place the community can go. We all live in the city. We all want what’s best for the city.”

More in This Series

A rendering for how the proposed community center in Camas could look. (City of Camas)
Camas officials, residents wade into pool controversy
Mayor Shannon Turk stays away from social media, but she knows if there’s a cheerful sign on her door when she gets home,…
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