Association with failed pool bond causes council members to pause list of projects
At Monday night’s Camas City Council meeting, the Parks Recreation and Open Space (PROS) 20-year plan was on the agenda. The normal expectation would have been a brief discussion and then a rubber stamp approval. That didn’t happen.
Included in a list of 62 projects were three which made up over half the $130 million package: a $43 million Recreation/Aquatic Center, $20 million for a Sports Complex, $10 million for another Community Center totaling $73 million. To many citizens, this was eerily familiar to the $78 million pool bond voters rejected by 90 percent in November 2019.
Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam had said “it’s a scary number” regarding the $130 million total projected cost. She spoke about prioritizing and that it’s a 20-year plan, when introducing it to the council members at their previous meeting.
Councilor Leslie Lewallen got immediate communication from constituents raising alarm. She sent an email to her fellow councilors and the mayor, seeking to make changes or indicating she would vote against the proposal Monday night. Mayor Steve Hogan announced at the 4:30 p.m. council workshop there would be a further discussion and a changed resolution on the matter during the regular meeting.
Following discussion, Lewallen introduced a motion which approved the PROS plan, but without the specific capital projects. This would allow staff to have the PROS plan submitted to the state by the end of March, allowing the city to compete for funding on other, smaller projects later this year.
The motion concluded with the following statement. “Approval of the 2022 PROS Plan as presented shall not be construed, interpreted or otherwise used as an approval of or supporting guidance for the stated ‘Current Costs’ projections set forth in the 2022 Capital Project List of the 2022 PROS Plan.”
The council unanimously approved the motion.
When asked for more details on “how” the Aquatic Center, the Sports Complex, and Community Center got into the 20-year plan, Director Lam said it was on the list in 2018 so it had been previously included. “The numbers are there because those are the numbers that we, from a historic perspective, we put in from previous evaluations of those types of projects,” she said.
She was not part of the $78 million pool bond, but a new hire a year ago after the previous director retired in the aftermath of the pool bond debacle. Apparently, the 90 percent rejection of the items in the “pool bond” vote didn’t indicate to the Parks and Recreation Commission the need to remove them from the list.
According to Lam, the inclusion of the items would allow staff to “reexamine the opportunity for a new recreation center with an aquatics facility.” She said they would take into consideration the financial feasibility and partnership opportunities of the facilities. “It gets us into that scoping of what do we want to do, and how do we want to have that conversation with the community,” she said.
The pool bond two years ago was going to add roughly $400 to $1,200 per year to people’s property taxes. Furthermore, it was going to cost a family about $700 annually to actually use the facility.
People may have thought the conversation started in 2018, when the city destroyed the Crown Park pool rather than repair it for about $2 million. They may have thought they ended the conversation with the 90 percent “no” vote in November 2019.
“This is how it starts,” Lam said last night. “It’s not one and done.”
That is what concerns citizens. A $43 million placeholder for an aquatic center in the plan makes it highly unlikely staff will come back with a $2 million proposal. A $20 million placeholder for a sports complex makes it highly unlikely staff will return with a $4 million proposal.
In fact, the 2014 PROS plan contained a list of “6-year Capital Improvement Plan” projects. The total price tag of the 18 line items was $38.6 million. The most expensive project listed was a $24 million “indoor community recreation and aquatics center.”
Five years later that pool and rec center morphed into a $72 million facility that created the “need” for the $78 million pool bond. The proposed 2022 PROS package listed the price as $43 million, nearly an 80 percent increase from the $24 million eight years earlier.
Also on the list is $2.5 million for the “first phase of field and site improvements for a sports complex. Today, that appears to have increased eightfold, to a $20 million sports complex.
Of interest in the 2014 plan is an “acquisition allowance” of $4.5 million. This was for “park land acquisition” to expand the park system north of Lacamas Lake. In the past two years the city has expended $22 million to acquire the “legacy lands” on the north shore of the lake.
The “No on Pool Bond” effort laid out citizen concerns in the fall of 2019.
Estimated costs to replace the Crown Park outdoor Camas pool were $2.2 million, yet the city closed that pool in 2018. In 2019, costs of a “replacement” pool have ballooned to $72 Million for a 78,000 square foot indoor facility with a 25 meter competition pool, a second recreation/leisure pool, fitness equipment, a gym, and rooms for events.
Add $6 Million for existing sports field improvements, replacing natural grass with turf, for an exorbitant $78 Million 20-year bond on November’s ballot. These construction costs will add approximately $1.04 per $1000 assessed property value (APV) to annual property taxes, which translates to $500 for a $480,000 Camas home.
The city of Camas is already a land of plenty, according to the PROS plan. Compared to other cities its size, Camas has:
- 4 times the miles of trails
- 4 times the acres of parks
- 3 times the number of playgrounds
- 4 times the number of recreation centers
At the previous council meeting, Steve Lorenz, Parks Commission chair, noted the plan and citizen input will serve as a guide directing actions and activities for the Parks and Recreation Commission for the next six years. The plan has 62 action items and a cost of $118 million.
The city of Camas owns and manages 1,068 acres of parks and open spaces, which supports a range of active and passive recreation experiences.
Three specific projects were listed by staff on Monday night as needing approval to compete for funding opportunities from the state. They included a park for the Green Mountain lands the city recently acquired for $3.8 million. Another was a water feature for Crown Park. And then a paved parking lot and restroom for the Lacamas Creek Trail.
During citizen comments, one person encouraged the council to work with schools and use their parks and facilities for recreation opportunities.
Very good analysis of the continual problem of most projects that originate from the Parks and Recreation Commission cookbook. They tend to suffer from expense creep. Maybe there should be some discussion regarding the long term appointments to the Commission that don’t know how to say NO.
Kudos to Councilor Lewallen for considering the input of Camas voters in 2019, ~90% of whom rejected the costly Pool Plus plan. Camas residents and businesses already pay the highest property taxes in the county. Many here are thankful for the abundance of recreational opportunities in Camas already. The City hasn’t put high enough priority on the water quality of LaCamas Lake, which is now limiting kayaking, canoeing and water sports. The water pollution worsens every year. I hope a ban on motorized watercraft will be considered in order to save our lakes.