WOODLAND — With candidate filing week underway, the four open seats for the Woodland Swimming Pool and Recreation District are among the least likely to draw contenders.
The five-member district, created 34 years ago as part of an effort to build a swimming pool in Woodland, is out of money and not functioning, Carolyn Fundingsland, Cowlitz County auditor, said in early April.
But county efforts to dissolve the five-member district are at a standstill unless the state auditor’s office declares it “unauditable,” said Hayley Johnson, Cowlitz County elections manager.
The state office does not have any record of the district as a government, spokesperson Kathleen Cooper said. Cooper confirmed the office has spoken to Fundingsland about the district but did not provide any further information.
Fundingsland told the Cowlitz County commissioners during an April workshop her office was exploring dissolution options because the district has no money to pay the bills.
“It must be open to election during filing; we must conduct elections, and the county is currently eating their cost,” Fundingsland said.
The Woodland district paid its election costs for 2017 and 2019, but it has outstanding bills of $1,975 for 2015 and $4,630 for 2021, Johnson said.
History of community interest
Efforts to build a swimming pool and recreation center in Woodland date back to the early 1950s, when resident Bud Neil and his wife began fundraising for a youth center in honor of their son who died from leukemia the year before, according to The Columbian archives on Newspapers.com.
About a decade later, donations were instead used for a new grandstand at the Woodland High School football field, after it was determined a recreation center was too expensive, according to The Daily News archives.
The idea gained new momentum in the late 1980s, and the parks and recreation district was created in 1989.
A separate nonprofit, the Woodland Community Swimming Pool Committee, was established around the same time and has fundraised and purchased property for the project over the years. The committee is an active, registered nonprofit with the state and has money in the bank, according to the Secretary of State’s Corporations and Charities filing system.
Committee organizers initially planned to build the pool at 1350 Glenwood St., but as the area became more industrialized, they turned to Horseshoe Lake Park and adjacent sites.
The project stalled during several years of back-and-forth with the Woodland City Council and working through lawsuits.
In 2013, the committee purchased the Lakeside Motel across the street from Horseshoe Lake Park, giving it 2.8 acres of noncity property to use for the project. The motel was demolished in 2018.
In 2017, the district ran a $7.9 million bond to help fund the pool and recreation center construction, with only 46 percent voting in favor.
It’s unclear when the district commissioners stopped meeting regularly, but the county Elections Office has had difficulty the past couple of years maintaining contact with the board, Johnson said.
Under state law, a parks and recreation district can be dissolved in several ways.
District commissioners can vote to dissolve themselves, but Woodland does not have a quorum, Fundingsland told the Cowlitz County commissioners. If people file for and are elected to the four open seats, that may change, she said. But the district still doesn’t have any money, Fundingsland added.
The county commission could pass a resolution calling for the district’s dissolution, but it has to be inoperable for a consecutive five years, according to state law. The Woodland district has not yet met that criteria, Fundingsland said.
A district could be dissolved if the state auditor’s office deems it “unauditable,” meaning it has “improperly maintained, failed to maintain, or failed to submit adequate accounts, records, files or reports for an audit to be completed.”
The state auditor’s office is supposed to audit the district, but it wasn’t on the agency’s radar, Fundingsland said.
After formation, districts unaware they need to register with the state usually get picked up by the county because it typically acts as treasurer for those smaller entities, Fundingsland said. The Woodland district kept its finances separate, she said.