Clallam County commissioners will open bids for the Carlsborg sewer project before committing Opportunity Fund money to the shuttered Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center.
They also agreed Monday, Jan. 25, to hold a public hearing before considering a $731,705 request from SARC to replace an aging air handler for the indoor pool room, which is needed for the athletic facility to reopen through a partnership with the Olympic Peninsula YMCA.
“We have to have numbers verified for the board to make the right decision,” board chairman Mike Chapman said.
The delay means that the planned reopening of SARC has been pushed back from July to September, YMCA and SARC officials told commissioners in their weekly work session.
“It’s touch-and-go for us right now in terms of money,” SARC board chairman Frank Pickering said.
“We need to get this done, but I am also sensitive to the public process.”
Commissioners today are expected to call for bids on the estimated $12.1 million construction of the Carlsborg sewer.
The sewer project is funded in large part by the sales tax-supported Opportunity Fund for rural infrastructure. Bids will be opened in a public meeting March 1.
A public hearing on the SARC request will be held later that month on a date to be determined.
Chapman proposed the delay to ensure that the Carlsborg project is fully funded and that the numbers behind the SARC proposal are independently verified by the county auditor and treasurer’s offices.
Chapman said doing so would avoid the potential of repeating last year’s clash between commissioners and County Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis over the release of $1.3 million in Opportunity Fund money to the Port of Port Angeles and City of Port Angeles.
Barkhuis rejected the warrants for those grants during a four-month feud because there was no public hearing or signed contracts prior to their approval.
“I would caution the board that this to me this seems like the exact same situation,” Chapman said.
“I’m open to this project. I have not decided yet. But for me, I need to see this bid for the Carlsborg sewer.”
Chapman noted that the SARC funding was not spelled out in the county budget.
Chapman added that a signed agreement between SARC and the YMCA would be necessary for his support of the grant.
“I would strongly ask the board to consider a public hearing process, a budget change process and the requisite public hearings and have that right after we get the bids for Carlsborg,” Chapman said.
“It’s going to take a little time, but we didn’t do that last year,” he said. “We got caught up. It took months to finally get monies released. It just wasn’t a good process and I’m personally not willing to go down that process again.”
First-year Commissioner Mark Ozias agreed.
“I’m certainly in favor of doing things differently than were done last year,” said Ozias, whose district covers the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
“That did not serve anyone’s purposes in a positive fashion as far as I can see.”
Ozias said the delay would ensure that the numbers are “solid” and that the board is “engaging in a public process that the community can support.”
“Certainly my hope is that by taking the time up front to make sure we’re engaging in the right process, then ultimately we’ll get to the conclusion more quickly,” Ozias said.
Closed in October
The cash-strapped SARC pool and athletic facility at 610 N. Fifth Ave. closed Oct. 30.
Its heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, which circulates fresh air into the indoor pool room known as a natatorium, was installed 18 years ago and is on its last legs, Pickering has said.
After a public hearing Dec. 18, the Opportunity Fund Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend the $731,705 grant to SARC.
Members of the SARC and YMCA boards made the case that the proposal was a “worthy risk to take,” Opportunity Fund board chairman Alan Barnard told commissioners.
“I can’t speak for the individual members, but from the comments that I heard during our meeting, it was enthusiastically and unanimously approved to recommend this award,” Barnard said.
County Administrator Jim Jones said the Opportunity Fund has a balance of $1.5 million and would collect an estimated $1 million in state sales tax revenue this year.
The Carlsborg project has a $726,000 estimated shortfall based on an engineer’s conservative estimate.
County officials are hopeful that bids will come in under the estimate.
If the bids are high, the Opportunity Fund is one potential remedy for a shortfall.
The county also plans to use Opportunity Fund money to replace aging sewers in Clallam Bay and Sekiu and to repay a $10 million state loan for the Carlsborg project.
Under the proposed agreement between SARC and the private nonprofit that oversees YMCA programs and facilities on the North Olympic Peninsula, the SARC board would “simply be the landlord” for the facility, Pickering said.
“To the extent that there are issues raised concerning expending public funds for a private purpose, that does not apply because the funds that would be encompassed by the Opportunity Fund grant are to be spent solely on a public building, which is going to remain in public ownership for the whole time,” SARC attorney Craig Miller told commissioners.
“The maintenance costs are being transferred in large part to the Y.”
Questions from Peach
Commissioner Bill Peach peppered SARC and YMCA officials about project financing, particularly first-year projections.
“For the record, I would like to share with you that I support the project,” Peach said.
“I want to make sure that it’s organized well enough financially that not only a guy with an MBA can get it, but so can the taxpayer.”
Ozias asked SARC officials why the estimate for the air handler had nearly doubled since last year.
Pickering said the 2 1/2-year-old original estimate was for an air handler that was far less energy efficient than the unit being sought now.
Ozias thanked members of both boards for working toward an agreement.
“Having a wide variety of partners come together to work collectively to try and come up with a solution is what we need more of,” Ozias said.
“So I applaud you on your work to get to this point so far.”
Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at 452-2345 ext. 5072 or at email@example.com.