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Parks and Recreation District agrees to change name; requests bill adjustment from the city

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District, which oversees Eisenschmidt Pool in St. Helens, will likely change its name after a request was made by the city of St. Helens earlier this year. The city has also agreed to consider an adjustment to recently imposed water and sewer charges the pool would be required to pay. The city of St. Helens is likely to adjust a newly proposed water rate increase for Eisenschmidt Pool after board members with the Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District, the tax district that oversees the pool, agreed to tweak the district's name.

The pool district, which was formed and named in 1990, is swapping out the word "parks" for "aquatic."

The St. Helens City Council discussed the special district's name change and a possible water and sewer rate adjustment during a St. Helens City Council work session Wednesday, April 18.

The city has been pursuing its own parks initiative in collaboration with the St. Helens School District, and city officials perceived a conflict between the city's objectives and the pool district's name. Predominately, city officials thought the pool's district's use of the word "parks" caused confusion to residents, especially as "Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District" appears on property tax statements and could lead some to believe the tax was for city parks, and not just the pool. The two are not related.

A series of back-and-forth discussions between pool district and city officials began earlier this year

Andrew Niemi, a board member for the Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District, said that shortly after the board indicated it had no desire to change the name earlier this year, it received a notice from the city in February that a new water and sewer rate was being adjusted, costing the pool facility an additional $25,000 annually. The pool, which was built during the Great Depression in reaction to the drowning of two St. Helens swimmers in the Columbia River, has never paid the city for water use.

Finance Director Matt Brown said the February notice sent to the pool district was the result of a broader effort by the city to examine utilities and to bill properties not paying the city for water services.

Last week, during a City Council work session, Brown explained that the district was willing to change its name to the "Greater St. Helens Aquatics and Recreation District."

"We deliberated on it at a couple different board meetings and decided that, perhaps because we don't over see any parks, that we would change that out for 'Aquatic and Recreation District,'" Niemi explained.

In exchange, the pool district's board requested that the council consider an adjustment to the new water rate, Brown noted.

Niemi also explained that the pool loses roughly an inch of water daily due to evaporation and not all of the water from the facility exits through the wastewater sewer system, which makes up part of the new city bill. The pool board is also requesting some flexibility with billing.

Public Works Engineering Director Sue Nelson said at the council meeting that it was common for sewer rates to be adjusted on a case-by-case basis if not all inflowing water was being pumped out through the sewer system.

Directors from the pool district also asked to be a partner in the city's new parks and recreation initiative with the school district, and for city officials "to keep an open mind" about allowing the district to use Civic Pride Park, which is adjacent to Einsenschmidt Pool, for future pool operational expansions.

The City Council agreed tentatively to those terms. The proposed rates will need to be approved by the City Council through an ordinance.

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