About the worst thing anyone can say about the Madras Aquatic Center Recreation District is that its underfunded.
At its best, the MAC Rec District may be the most significant, most important contribution (outside of schools) that taxpayers have ever made to the children of this community. Ever. Over 10,000 swimming lessons have been provided since the pool opened in 2008. All third- through sixth-graders in the 509-J School District are offered two weeks of swimming lessons through school. Many preschoolers are taught during a busy program as well.
Since it opened in 2008, just as the worst economic recession in 75 years was about to begin, MAC leaders have brought vision, variety and dexterity to operations, on a shoestring budget. Theyve organized various meets and events that bring visitors (and their dollars) from all over the region. Theyve dove into the effort with the help of the Bean Foundation grant of creating a recreation (out-of-pool activities for adults and youth) program for the Madras area.
Plus, through this recession, the MAC has forged a reputation as one of the finest swim centers east of the Cascades, if not the state. The MAC may be our communitys strongest asset to lure new residents.
And yet, it is underfunded. The community can rectify that in the upcoming election, via a five-year operating levy for the MAC.
The MAC currently gets about $208,000 via taxes. Its budget is about $650,000 a year, about a quarter of which is power, most used to heat the pool. User fees and grants (through the MAC Trust) endeavor to make up the budget shortfall, and cant.
This five-year levy will keep the pool open year-round, allow the district to pay its bills without having to borrow funds from one year to the next, will allow for a contingency in case emergencies or repairs are needed, and would fully fund the recreation program.
Taxpayers of the MAC district which encompasses the 509-J boundary currently pay for the construction of the pool (71 cents per $1,000 value this year, structure will be paid for in 2026-27), and the original 25 cents per $1,000 permanent operations levy. The 40 cents per $1,000 would be in addition to that, and will move MAC operations into sustainability.
Plenty has been said about the original 25 cents operation levy, and why it isnt enough to operate the facility. Frankly, the original operating levy was set too low. The low figure was set to help it pass a tough electorate, nearly half of which werent sure we even needed a pool. Also, it was projected that the tremendous growth going on would continue, and the tax base growth would mean ample dollars.
Then reality set in. The economy crashed. Growth stopped, values dropped. It was quickly obvious that the 25 cents per $1,000 wasnt going to adequately fund operations. The MAC made do, cut staffing, cut hours, closed the pool for about a month each spring, yet still had to borrow money to pay bills at the end of the fiscal year.
But, again, something else became crystal clear as the recession continued. The MAC was emerging as a shining light for the Madras area. Nearly everyone who came in contact with it whether themselves or through their children came away impressed, cognizant of its value. The hundreds of kids learning to swim, the adults and seniors gaining the excellent exercise/health venue, the events drawing outside visitors (and their dollars) to town, the state champion swimmers already being produced wow.
The element nonswimmers need to take note of is that this five-year levy will allow the out-of-pool recreation element to be self-sustaining, allowing it to expand past the kick-start, annually decreasing funding provided by the Bean Foundation grant. MAC officials note that already 3,000 people of all ages have taken part in a MAC Recreation-organized programs, from adult basketball to youth sports.
Something else very significant about this levy: its for five years. It is not permanent. Its a way to provide the MAC sustainability, to get firmly on its feet and be able to plan for the future. At 40 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, it would cost a $100,000 property owner an additional $40 a year, $3.33 per month, about 11cents a day. We can do this.
Who knows what the next five years may bring. Maybe enough growth that the 25 cent levy will be enough for a period; maybe a figure less than 40 cents per $1,000 will suffice. Regardless, taxpayers and the MAC Recreation District can reassess in five years.
As noted, the MAC is an economic engine of the community. Its events bring thousands of visitors to Madras, which means money, commerce. The people who own, or are employed by, our restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and gas stations should be the first in line to vote yes on this levy. The MAC, frankly is good for business.
Property values are slowly rebounding, our manufacturing base is hiring; agriculture continues to be strong. The economy in Madras and Jefferson County throughout Central Oregon is resuscitating, poised for a comeback. Rejecting this levy will be a setback. Arent we tired of setbacks?
The MAC has powered through rough economic times and is here to stay, thank goodness. The naysayers who thought its impact would be negligible have, in a very short time, been proven absolutely wrong. The MAC has proved to be a valuable commodity, and has done so on an inadequate budget. Imagine what it can be if funded at the sustainable level this levy would provide. Its earned that opportunity.
For our kids and families, for our economy, for our health, for our community to reach its potential vote yes on the MAC levy.