Anger over community center is not justified

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

In her interview with the Post-Record last week, Camas Mayor Shannon Turk said she was willing to shoulder the bulk of people’s anger over the city’s decision to place a $78 million community-aquatics center bond on the Nov. 5 ballot, but added that she doesn’t fully understand people’s ire over the bond.

“We aren’t forcing this on anyone,” Turk said. “We are asking the voters to decide.”

No matter what people think of the bond, Turk brings up a good point about the anger and outrage surrounding the ballot proposition.

Considering how long this issue has been kicked around in Camas — by city leaders, community members, several city councils, mayors and others — the fact that Camas councilors decided to put a bond on the ballot should not have come as a shock to anyone but those who either are very new to the community or who simply haven’t been paying attention.

As we wrote in a previous editorial, the Post-Record has been covering this issue for at least 17 years and has published 15 articles related to a community-aquatics center in less than 24 months.

Still, even if people were surprised to see the issue go to the ballot, the fact that they seem to be seething about the bond proposition should be alarming to other Camas residents. There are few issues that deserve such heated criticism. We would list caging toddlers at the border, allowing industries to continue destroying the planet for a quick buck and legislators kowtowing to gun manufacturers and their NRA lobbyists in the face of near-weekly mass shootings chief among them.

But getting yourself into a lather over a bond measure that would, at its highest level, cost the owner of a home worth half a million dollars about $10 a week? That seems a bit unhinged.

Sending bond measures to voters is what city leaders do. Sometimes they pass, sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes, they don’t pass and city officials go back to square one and try again. In Liberty Lake, Washington, for example, voters almost passed a $12 million ballot proposition to build a community-aquatics center in 2016, but didn’t reach the 60-percent threshold the proposal needed to pass. City leaders went back to the ballot in 2017 with what the Spokesman Review called “a slimmed-down proposal that left out the aquatic center after feedback from the community suggested that was a problem for some voters.” That $9 million community center proposition, which would have cost less than $200 a year for the owner of a $500,000 home, failed 62-48.

Camas’ community center bond isn’t even the only one in Washington state up for voter approval in the Nov. 5 general election. The city of Shoreline, Washington, located about 10 miles north of Seattle, has a similar proposal on the ballot. The new $103.6 million Shoreline Aquatics, Recreation and Community Center would replace the city’s 50-year-old pool and 70-year-old recreation center.

Dig into bond propositions around the country, and you’ll find at least a dozen similar initiatives for community centers in cities smaller and larger than Camas. It’s such a common practice, it should make residents wonder why some people are reacting to the Camas bond as if it’s a conspiracy theory city leaders crafted to bilk folks out of their hard-earned dollars.

The city councilors said in July that they know the $78 million is a big ask. But Turk is right: they aren’t pushing this sticker price on anyone. More than 70 percent of Camas homes are owned, not rented, so the voters deciding this ballot proposition are likely going to be the ones agreeing to pay, or not pay, for it.

And, yes, there are still many unknowns. No one has given a great answer to the question of how much the city might need to cover daily operations at a community center. Pete Capell, the city’s administrator, has said he believes the costs will be around $300,000 a year based on the joint Camas-Washougal community center study that looked at similarly sized centers. How will the city pay for that $300,000 or more each year? No one has an answer.

We can see how some of these unknowns might make people wary, but anger over the center should be a red flag for anyone who still claims they want to live in a city where people treat each other with respect and strive to find common ground regardless of political opinions.

Don’t want to pay a few dollars more each week to build a community-aquatics center and upgrade sports fields in Camas? Great. Vote no on the proposition.

Love the idea and want to support it with your tax dollars? Wonderful. Vote yes on the proposition.

It really is that simple.