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Committee recommends expanding parks district to address operating costs of a new aquatic center

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Pool replacement efforts may involve a parks district expansion to boost tax revenue to cover operating expenses.

Plans to replace the Prineville swimming pool have changed in recent weeks.

Members of a citizen-led pool advisory committee had hoped that collecting survey data and conducting feasibility studies would enable the county to pursue a construction bond for the November 2018 ballot.

But after learning how much it would likely cost to operate a new aquatic center, the committee chose to address that expense first before taking steps to build the facility.

The committee met last week, almost one month after receiving survey results that suggests voters would approve an aquatic center construction bond for $28 million.

"At that meeting, the most important decision we made was to follow a path where we will go out for an expansion of Crook County Parks and Recreation District in November," said committee chair Wayne Looney. "The major reason for the decision is that the committee did not feel that it had a reasonable chance of passing a construction budget for an aquatic center without a strong answer for operational funds."

Looney said that it will cost more than $700,000 per year to operate the proposed facility, which would feature an indoor competition pool and recreation pool as well as an outdoor pool and waterslide. That estimate, he said, is based on investigation into the operating expenses of the Madras Aquatic Center as well as an aquatic center in Boardman.

"When we saw these figures, they were somewhat shocking," Looney said. "We know when we go out and talk to people about passing a building bond, the first question will be, 'Who is going to pay for operations?' … We knew we had to have an answer."

The committee had initially planned to lean on city and county government to fund operations until the enterprise zone exemption for the Apple data center – which is located in the Parks and Recreation District – ended, resulting in a substantial boost in district tax revenue.

"It became more apparent when those (operation) figures became known that the city and county didn't feel like they could carry the ball without impacting other services that have a higher priority for them," Looney said. "They continued to want to be a helper, but not at that level."

The committee is therefore proposing that the Parks and Recreation District expand its boundary to mirror that of the Crook County Fire and Rescue district, which includes Powell Butte and the Juniper Canyon area as well as the Facebook data center. With the boundary change, the parks district would see a large enough revenue increase to fund pool operations.

This would not be the first time the parks district has tried to expand its boundary. According to Executive Director Duane Garner, an annexation to expand the district from Prineville's urban growth boundary to the CCFR district boundary was approved in 1990, five years after the parks district was formed.

A second attempt during the 2006 primary election to add Powell Butte and the Juniper Canyon area was not so successful. Voters in-district approved the addition of Juniper Canyon and Powell Butte by margins of 2,104-1,227 and 2,044-1,285, respectively. However, Juniper Canyon area voters rejected the annexation by a 577-87 margin and voters in Powell Butte cast 707 no votes versus 108 yes votes.

"That has been considered," Looney said of the unsuccessful 2006 attempt, but he points out that if voters expand the boundary this time, they would buy into the possibility of a new aquatic center in Prineville.

Now that the advisory committee has made a boundary expansion recommendation, it is up to the CCPRD board to decide if it will move forward with a November ballot measure. And if voters approve the annexation, the advisory committee and other parks district leaders will pursue a construction bond for the May 2019 election.

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