The possibility for a new taxing district aimed at financially assisting the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center is a reality.
It was unclear whether the measure for a metropolitan park district would appear on the Aug. 4 ballot until a recent court judgment that supported the petition submitted to the county auditor’s office.
After Citizens for SARC submitted more than 4,400 voter signatures in late April, the petition used to gather the signatures became a focal point of controversy.
The same day the petitions were submitted, City of Sequim Attorney Craig Ritchie contacted the county’s prosecuting attorney’s office to express concerns about the petition.
In reviewing the petition, Shoona Riggs, Clallam County auditor, noted an incorrect citation to a state-revised code, lack of numbered signature lines and a warning statement that didn’t adhere to the verbatim language of Revised Code of Washington 35.21.005.
To provide Riggs the guidance necessary to process the petition, the issue was brought before Erik Rohrer, Clallam County Superior Court judge on May 15.
“The petition in question is sufficient,” Rohrer said, ruling in favor of the petition.
Because the warning statement is intended to prevent fraud and Riggs already had validated the necessary number of signatures, Rohrer allowed some room for deviation from the warning statement set by statute. However, he warned the “court does believe statute should be followed.”
The lack of numbered lines is a “pure technicality,” Rohrer said, and the incorrect citation is “unfortunate, but has no significant impact of the petition.”
“We’ll forge ahead and the people will decide in August,” Virginia O’Neil, spokesman for Citizens for SARC, said immediately following the hearing. “Logic and reason prevailed in the face of rumor and innuendo and that’s always an exciting thing.”
“I think the spirit of the law was captured by Erik Rohrer’s judgment,” she said.
SARC’s board of commissioners agreed to pursue a metropolitan park district aimed at providing financial support to the community’s recreation center and public pool late February. The decision came a result of the facility’s shrinking reserve funds and failure to pass what would have been the first levy for the SARC in 12 years during February’s special election.
Any metropolitan park district has the legal ability to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, but the new tax district SARC officials seek would instate a tax of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation within Sequim School District boundaries.
Following SARC officials’ decision to ask voters to support a metropolitan parks district, Sequim city councilors passed a resolution in late April suggesting SARC officials wait and instead work with the City of Sequim, Clallam County and a wide array of community organizations to develop a more inclusive metropolitan park district proposal for the February 2016 ballot.
But, with no guaranteed short-term financial security, SARC officials opted to continue toward a metropolitan park district during the primary election.
“There is no logical reason why this (MPD) can’t be broadened down the road,” O’Neil said.
However, the initial “narrow focus” of the taxing district proposed by SARC officials is cause for concern for Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett, he said – noting once something is created with a specific focus, it is more difficult to add to it later.
Looking ahead, the development of a broad-based metropolitan park district “is only relevant if the current proposal is not on the ballot in August or fails,” Burkett said.
If voters pass the metropolitan park district proposed by SARC in August, the facility would begin receiving funding by the spring of 2017.
Because the public facility has been projected to close by December 2016 unless a funding strategy is secured, SARC Executive Director Scott Deschenes said facility officials would be seek funding alternatives, such as a bridge loan once they can prove future money will be coming in.
Reach Alana Linderoth at firstname.lastname@example.org.