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City tosses metropolitan park district idea into mix

POULSBO — Time is ticking away for the North Kitsap Pool, and the city of Poulsbo took its first crack Wednesday night at trying to find a solution.

The Finance/Administration committee met with attendees including North Kitsap School District Superintendent Gene Medina, pool manager Greg Schmidt and leaders of Save Our Pool, an organization formed to keep the community amenity from being drained.

Discussion hovered over identifying a long-term solution to the pool’s funding problem, and focused in part on the possibility of a metropolitan park district, which could ease funding pains for several community attractions.

The pool faces a $350,000 deficit after being cut from the school district’s proposed budget. The district has subsidized the pool since the disbandment of a North End county parks district in the early 90s.

When asked by Poulsbo Council Member Ed Stern where the school board now stands on the pool’s verdict, Medina succinctly replied “the pool will close,” unless sustainable help is found. If not, it will shut down Aug. 30.

Park district potential

Stern and fellow Council Member Becky Erickson identified the pool, as well as the Poulsbo Marine Science Center, North Kitsap Events Center and String of Pearls trail system, as “compatible problems” that could possibly see a solution in an area-wide park district with taxing authority.

Each has the capability to raise capital funding, but it’s the followup that proves tricky, Stern said.

“The real nut is operation and maintenance,” he said. “You can find sources of funds, grants or otherwise, to get things built. The devil is not in the details, it’s in the operation and maintenance.”

An idea that could negate that difficulty, both Stern and Erickson said a park district option must be a community cause steered by take-charge citizens, and each was honest about the hard work it will take.

“This is a huge thing,” Erickson said. “But it’s something that would eventually solve inevitable, long-term funding problems.”

The Kitsap Regional Library system, which includes nine uniquely run but connected branches, is an example of a successful, coordinated system created by the grassroots Friends of the Library movement. Bainbridge Island’s metropolitan park district, too, is led by a citizen-derived board of electorates capable of future planning.

“I can, with all do respect, almost set my watch to a pool crisis,” Stern said, calling on the old addage: Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. “I really feel that this is the way to go, long term.”

If put into motion, a park district levy wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2010. Poulsbo Parks and Recreation director Mary McCluskey said a levy could pull 50 or 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, meaning a park district following the boundaries of the school district could earn $3.6 or $5.4 million a year. The park district would not necessarily need to follow the school district’s boundaries.

Finance/Administration Committee members during the meeting were quick to point out a park district would not be directed at just benefiting Poulsbo. Currently, 70 percent of users of Poulsbo’s Parks and Rec programs are not from the Viking City, though those programs cost the city roughly $150,000 each year.

Stern also recognized the current economic crisis and the hesitance some may have at added tax costs. But he noted crisis often paves way for opportunity, and it is during difficult times people are most open to taking a new view of things.

Our pool is your pool

While long-term funding solutions for the North Kitsap Pool were weighed, committee members were hastily reminded a short-term solution is also in order.

With less than three months before its possible closing, Schmidt said he and the Save Our Pool campaign are working to keep the pool open as long as possible.

Since first taking donations two weeks ago, the group has raised $3,400 — leaving still a $346,600 gap.

Schmidt also informed the committee a pool closure wouldn’t mean a complete lack of expenditure. Weekly maintenance would still be needed, as some water would need to remain in the pool and be circulated regularly.

Save Our Pool member Andrew Sargent said 10,000 people per year hit the NK pool waves. He said it’s an issue of both public health and safety.

“We can’t do this alone. We need the city of Poulsbo,” he said. “We need your muscle, we need your clout, we need your wallet.”

The group will present to the school board the option of keeping the pool open at least one more quarter if enough money is raised. It is currently reaching out to businesses and community members to spread awareness, Sargent said. If the pool is closed, all money donated will be returned to donors.

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