Aquatic center may be awash in red ink

LANGLEY — South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioners got the sobering news Thursday night that their $15.2 million aquatic center will operate at a loss for at least the first nine years.

The district’s financial consultant, Geoff Anderson of ORB Architects, presented a report that said projected revenues will trail costs by $101,639 when the center opens in 2011.

A worst-case scenario predicts a deficit of $131,873 during the center’s first year of operations, and a best-case scenario presents a $39,163 budget gap.

By 2020, the center could still be operating under a loss of $97,518 (under the worst-case scenario), or be in the black by $18,110 (under the best-case scenario), according to the consultant’s report.

The report is partly based on a public admission cost of $3.50, which includes an assumption that there will also be season passes and free admission for some visitors.

According to the study, a total of 59,725 people will pay $3.50 to use the facility in its first year.

Parks officials are scrutinizing the 10-page report.

“There are problems with the numbers, and I’m a little disappointed,” Park Commissioner Allison Tapert said later. “For me, the information needs to be solid, but if I can punch holes in them, anyone can,” she said.

Tapert noted that the projected revenue figure from concessions is not realistic, and she questioned including revenue from visitors who are expected to come from north Whidbey and Camano Island.

“The numbers need to be bulletproof, and we aren’t there yet,” she said. “If we moved ahead we’d be rushing the process and that’s not in anyone’s best interest.”

Park commissioners have until Wednesday, Aug. 13 to file a request to the county for a ballot measure to be placed on the November general election.

The bottom line for taxpayers will be a 20.5-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed property value for 30 years to pay for construction costs.

At Thursday’s meeting, officials hinted that another tax increase may be needed in the years ahead to keep the rec center open.

An additional 2- to 3-cent increase to cover operating costs may be added to the district’s regular levy, said Park Commissioner Matt Simms.

“As rec center usage increases over the years, we may be able to operate in the black,” he added. “I think user fees in the $3.50 to $5 per day range is reasonable.”

Tapert said a levy increase could be avoided by encouraging islanders to contribute up to $2 million for a maintenance endowment fund.

“I know it’s an ambitious goal, but the interest would help cut the tax money needed,” she said.

Commissioners will hold a special meeting to consider putting the recreation center proposal on the November ballot.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug, 11 at the Health Services building, 5475 Maxwelton Road in Langley.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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