CAMAS — Plenty of Camas residents have made it clear they want an aquatic center, and the city council is going to give them the chance to bring one to Camas.
At Monday’s meeting, the council unanimously voted to put a bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot. The council is asking residents to pass a bond vote for up to $78 million, which would be used to pay for an aquatic center with a recreation pool and competition pool, a gym, community rooms and renovations to a few fields around the city.
The discussion about bringing a community center and pools to Camas has been going on for a while. Councilor Steve Hogan said at Monday’s workshop that he’s heard about it the last 14 years he’s been on the council.
“It’s time to move forward with something,” he said.
When the council officially passed the ordinance to get a vote on the ballot, Mayor Shannon Turk let out a “woo hoo.”
In information prepared for Monday’s council workshop, the option with the two pools, community rooms and a gym would fill out a 78,000-square-foot facility costing $72 million. Camas officials have focused primarily on city-owned property off Lake Road across the street from the entrance to Heritage Park. The 6 1/2 -acre site was listed as the favorite among three sites included on a feasibility study the city commissioned in 2001.
The option also included $2.7 million for renovations to Forest Home Park, $2.3 million for renovations to Prune Hill Sports Park and $1 million for renovations to Dorothy Fox Park. Renovations for those fields including adding lights to all locations that lacked them and changing all the fields to turf fields so they drain better after rain.
A few councilors said that excitement about the pools and community center doesn’t guarantee that the project will receive enough public support to pass. Since it’s a bond measure, it must receive 60 percent plus one vote in the November election to pass.
Among the options reviewed by the council, only a new sports complex that would’ve cost an estimated $12.2 million was excluded. At the workshop, Councilor Melissa Smith said she was in support of going out for everything except for the new complex, and Councilor Don Chaney made the motion to put up a bond to fund everything other than the new sports complex.
City Administrator Pete Capell said councilors could consider not certifying the levy rate for 2021 until 2020, which would delay collections on the bond by a year. He said that would help taxpayers, since two items come off city residents’ taxes after 2020: a library bond for 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed property expires, and the school district’s tax rate for bond payments is expected to decrease from $3.21 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2020 to $1.89 in 2021.
Capell said even the most expensive option for the project would cost property owners less than the amount that will come off their bill through the decrease in the library and school bonds.
Councilor Ellen Burton said it’s important to talk to the community to see what they want the most, and to go with their energy. Even with support for the project, many residents will see a rise in their tax bill as a rise in their tax bill as opposed to paying toward the new center.
“Individuals do not compartmentalize property taxes,” she said.
The numbers the city used also had the school district’s maintenance and operations levy at a rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value — the highest the school levy can go after the Legislature increased the capped amount earlier this year. The previous cap was $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The Camas School District’s current levy is at the lower $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, even though district voters approved the levy in 2017 with estimated rates of $3.06 per $1,000 for 2018 through 2021.
When the levy was capped, the district could only collect up to $1.50 per $1,000 level. Since the Legislature raised the cap, and because voters had already approved a higher rate, the district could collect more without putting a new levy up for vote, Superintendent Jeff Snell said, although he said that decision hasn’t been made for 2020 yet.
The school district also has an interest in the community center project. There has been talk about a program allowing all Camas students to get swim lessons, or some sort of water classes. The competitive pools would give high school swim teams more space to practice. Also, the Dorothy Fox and Prune Hill fields are right next to elementary schools, and are used regularly during the school day.
Snell said the school district aims to keep taxes to residents even from year to year.
“We have intentionally structured our bonds this way to help manage growth,” he said. “We look at student enrollment forecasting data to try to predict future need. If the student population has grown enough to warrant another bond, it gives us capacity to potentially present a bond package for voter consideration while trying to maintain a consistent school tax rate for constituents.”