Keep golf course; scale back pool plans | Guest viewpoint

Fred Obee
Posted 5/24/23

I’m beginning to seriously wonder just how the city measures its needs and goes about setting its priorities.

At the moment, it is charging ahead with plans to build a new pool for $38 …

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Keep golf course; scale back pool plans | Guest viewpoint


I’m beginning to seriously wonder just how the city measures its needs and goes about setting its priorities.

At the moment, it is charging ahead with plans to build a new pool for $38 million and $53 million. Operational costs are estimated at $1.2 million to $2.4 million annually. And they want to eliminate the golf course, which costs the city very little, and create a park, when we actually have a wealth of park lands in the city. Should I mention we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants just to reach this point?

Of course, the city knows it cannot continue down this path without new revenue, and it has pointed toward establishment of a new Metropolitan Parks District as a probable option.

A Metropolitan Parks District is attractive to the city because it can raise the money for the pool, and create a new revenue stream to pay for maintaining and improving city parks, which frees up money for the city to spend elsewhere.

Adding levies

Creating new levies to pay for things is a favorite process for the city. That’s how it funded the library, (Vote Library!) and that’s how it jettisoned the cost of fire protection. (Vote Fire!) That’s how it got emergency services. (Vote EMS!) And it’s not like the fire protection taxes we once paid are really gone. The city is now in the process of phasing them back in. When that process is fully implemented in the next two years, the city will need new revenues to pay for additional park costs. I suspect that will be the Metropolitan Parks District. (Vote Pool!)

I know city officials will tell you no hard decisions have been made, and that they are just going through a “robust” community engagement process, but it seems obvious when you read the 2020 Parks and Recreation Plan that an expensive aquatic center and a revamped park/golf course funded by a new taxing district is the preferred path. The plan points out: “To mitigate the risk of constrained resources on delivering parks and recreation services, the city should identify and pursue alternative parks and recreation funding sources.” (Vote Pool!)

The parks plan is full of data, but it leans heavily on 927 responses to a Survey Monkey email sent to the city’s list of persons interested in parks and recreation and a flier sent to schools as part of its advertisement of pool programs. If you are trying to get an impartial result, this is not the way you do it, as most respondents to lists like this will skew in favor of facility users.

So, it’s no surprise that both the survey and the analysis of it bend toward building a new pool and finding a new use for the golf course, which of course also has the benefit of creating a new potential site for the pool as well.

We’ve got parks!

The plan does a good job of assessing park resources. The Growth Management Act recommends 7.6 acres per 1,000 people. We have roughly 20 acres of parks for every 1,000 residents. In this calculation, the city includes the golf course as a park. If you include Fort Worden, the total climbs to almost 71 acres of parks for every 1,000 people. Somehow, though, the city concludes we still might need more park land.

“Although the City contains a wealth of open space and recreational facilities, it does not maintain or control these assets. It is not cost effective or good management of limited resources to provide redundancy for these existing assets but it is prudent to consider their future and plan for the possibility of loss and prioritize the necessity of replacement for those assets deemed critical.”

That means the city thinks it must plan as if state-owned Fort Worden, and county-owned Memorial Field, West Beach, Port Townsend Community Center and the fairgrounds don’t exist. When you do that, the report concludes, by 2036, 13 years from now, we might face a deficit of park acres. Fortunately, if you include the golf course, we can avoid that calamity, the report concludes.

The parks plan goes on to identify a Metropolitan Parks District as a potential source of funding for $1.365 million in deferred maintenance in the park system and another $28 million in future park improvements. (Vote Pool!)

Don’t get me wrong. I think a new aquatic facility would be wonderful, and I think improving our existing parks is a laudable goal, and there are some great ideas in the plan, especially for neighborhood parks.

And I’m not usually one to complain about taxes. I am happy to support reasonable proposals for genuine city needs, I just don’t think that a giant parks/pool/golf course plan should be at the top of the list.

Big expenses coming

The city is applying surcharges on water bills every month and hiking base rates 3 percent every year, but everyone acknowledges those fees will never be enough to resolve the issues with the system that brings water from Quilcene. Here’s what the city says about that in its 2019 water system plan:

“The OGWS (Olympic Gravity Water System) will eventually require replacement. Pipeline segments, some more than 90 years old, may need replacement within the timeframe of this plan. The complete transmission line replacement cost was estimated at $113,901,954 in 2015. The City has not identified the timeline or funding sources for OGWS capital costs, but they may include contracts with industrial users, long-term bonds, rate increases, grants, or federal or state loans.”

There are similar issues with the sewer system, which is near collapse in some places, we are told. And of course, our crumbling streets are overdue for attention.

So, what is the prudent way forward? The tax increases the city is implementing that will replace what we once spent on a fire department will be sufficient to meet reasonable park goals and operations. The pool plan should be scaled back to something suitable for school competitions, swimming lessons, aquatic exercise classes and lap swimming. No gyms. No fitness centers. No weight rooms. No birthday rooms. No teaching kitchens. The golf course should continue to operate under a private contract, as it does now, with minimal city support. With the pool/parks/golf course issue behind it, the city should turn its high-level planning acumen to streets, sewers and water systems. I didn’t poll anyone, but I’m pretty sure 100% of city residents think those are critical needs.

(Fred Obee is a 20-year Port Townsend resident and a longtime Pacific Northwest journalist.)