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Western Ada offers to dig a hole and bury taxpayers’ money

Western Ada offers to dig a hole and bury taxpayers’ money

Wayne Hoffman
October 7, 2016
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October 7, 2016

Meridian has three separate proposals for tax increases, one of which, apparently, is little more than a hole in the ground.   

The Western Ada Recreation District wants voters to approve a tax increase to pay for two new swimming pool “aquatic centers.” The price tag is $20 million. That’s as descriptive as the proposal gets, even though the agency has had a year to provide details.

The Western Ada Recreation District, which runs the Meridian community pool and a park, nearly asked for voter support a year ago but decided against moving ahead after determining the public had too little advance information. This August, the board voted for a $16-million public debt proposal. A month later, the board decided to ask for 25 percent more, making it $20 million.

Board Chairman Charlie Rountree contends the increase is the result of higher construction costs, and that may be so. But one might think the board would have realized that before now. It’s also tough to fully evaluate the project plan because the district doesn’t have one, according to board officials. I asked Western Ada Recreation District Secretary/Treasurer Carol White for specifics on how the $20 million would be spent, as well as an overview of the project.

“I’m not sure exactly what you are looking for, but we don’t have detailed plans as of today,” said White.

There’s zero information from the district on its website about the bond election. There’s nothing about these proposed aquatic centers, how much it would cost taxpayers nor how much taxpayers would have to generate annually to keep them running.

Even if voters agree to pay for the pools, they’ll still have to pay to use them, and the price of admission isn’t set. Rountree says pool and admission fees may mirror what other, similar facilities in the area charge.

But he’s not ready to commit.

“We have a chicken and egg situation, and we right now have an egg that we are waiting to be fertilized,” Rountree told me. Which is to say, if voters agree to write a blank check, the agency will fill in the details.

Rountree figures voters will offer support; surveys have shown indoor pools are favorable. It’s a claim repeated by the lead group supporting the bond.

“In 2015, surveyed citizens overwhelmingly said they want aquatic centers,” says a flier produced by Friends for Meridian’s Future. If only that were the whole story. The survey found the most important component for local facilities controlled by Meridian government are pathways and trails. Those are followed by picnic shelters, playgrounds and community recreation centers. Swimming pools were fifth. Swimming pools were second on a list of the top-three priorities for improvement or expansion. The top priorities, no matter how you measure it, are pathways and trails.

That’s not what taxpayers are being asked to get behind. Instead, the district is offering a vacuous plan, the only specific detail is a deep, dark pit for taxpayers’ money.

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