Camas leaders from the city, school district and port greeted a standing-room-only crowd at the 2019 Camas State of the Community address, held Sept. 19 at Lacamas Lake Lodge in Camas.
Camas School Board President Doug Quinn moderated the annual showcase of local government agencies’ most recent accomplishments and future ambitions.
Camas Mayor Shannon Turk delivered her first State of the Community speech since being appointed mayor in November 2018, and spoke about the city’s current Brady Road repair project, the construction of a $2 million water reservoir, the planned Lake Road-Everett Street traffic roundabout, growth in the North Shore area, acquisition of open space land and the city’s new plans for communicating with the general public.
Of all the issues Turk discussed at the State of the Community address, however, one topic — the city’s November ballot proposition asking Camas voters to approve a $78 million bond to build a community aquatics center and upgrade several Camas-area athletic fields — received the most pushback during the event’s question-and-answer session.
Reading from cards that community members had filled out before the State of the Community event got underway, Quinn asked Turk if the bond proposition would adversely impact other taxpayer-funded city services.
“No, it would not, because that is revenue we are asking you to provide through our bond,” Turk began to explain before a man in the audience began yelling.
“Does $78 million in …” the unidentified man shouted before Quinn cut him off, pointing toward the back of the crowded room where the man was seated.
“Excuse me, sir, no. I’m going to make a point right now. I will not tolerate outbursts from the audience. I would ask you to please be respectful and submit your question. If you have a statement to make, after the meeting you can approach the mayor or the council. That is appropriate. That,” Quinn said, referencing the man’s outburst, “is not.”
The crowd burst into applause at Quinn’s response, and the mayor finished her answer: “OK, so as far as building the facility itself, no, city programs would not be in jeopardy because we are asking for money specific for the construction of that facility.”
Turk added that city leaders “will make sure that our current existing services … are not jeopardized by the start of that community center” and that money the city spends on recreation services right now would go toward similar services offered at the new community-aquatics center.
The second question of the night centered around costs for using the community center: If Camas taxpayers pay to build the center, would Camas residents also receive a membership discount?
“Absolutely,” Turk said, “your tax dollars are paying for that investment … you will get a discounted rate versus somebody who is coming to our community center from Vancouver.”
The third question asked Turk to speak to those in the room who support and oppose the community aquatics center.
To the center’s supporters, Turk said: “Thank you. You are probably one of the people that have filled out our community surveys and told us over the years that this is a high priority for you. And we have listened to you. We have pulled information together, and this is the best proposal we could put together.”
To those who oppose the $78 million community center bond proposal, Turk said: “I’m asking you to trust me.”
A community member shouted “No,” to that, but Turk kept going.
“This is a concept that we are putting together based on community surveys,” Turk said. “This is the best concept that we have at this point. There (is) $78 million for this facility and sports fields improvements. It’s a concept. The ballot measure is the absolute highest amount we can collect.”
Turk compared the $78 million “huge ask” to someone getting preapproved for a $500,000 home loan and finding a home for $400,000, so they only take out a loan for $400,000.
“If we don’t ask for ($78 million) then we might not get the center,” Turk said. “People have, quite frankly, they’ve told me that I’m stupid. They say, ‘You should not have asked for such a high amount. It’s never going to pass. You should have asked for $50 million and fundraised to get it up there.’ To that I say, ‘Yes, that’s one way we could have gone.’ … But I know of facilities in this area that have plans for competitive pools sitting in the drawer. They’ve never fundraised. They’re never getting that pool.”
Turk added that she realized asking for $78 million was “a risk” on the city’s part.
“But I’m hoping that you trust me, that we are going to put together the best plan we have on the best site,” Turk said. “I know there are questions about sites, about what will be done specifically at this center, but I’m asking you to trust the city. And if you don’t trust me, trust the city council. You have seven amazing people with diverse backgrounds, with diverse interests, that keep me in check. That’s their job. We have a system of checks and balances. We’re all working together. This is where we’re going. We can talk about different locations and about different things happening (at the center) after the ballot passes.”
Port, school district spotlight future developments, students’ emotional health
Other highlights from this year’s State of the Community address came from Ripp and Snell as they discussed the Port’s waterfront development and “Building 20” plans and the school district’s recent acquisition of the former United Laboratories (UL) building and land.
Ripp said the Port has had great success filling buildings in its industrial development park, and pointed to plans for “Building 20,” a 50,000-square-foot spec building the Port hopes to begin construction on in 2021.
Like Building 18, an industrial building the Port finished in May 2018 that is at 100-percent occupancy with six businesses, Ripp said Port leaders expect to have little trouble filling space in the planned Building 20 development.
The Port also is working to complete a long-awaited project at Parker’s Landing on waterfront land at the edge of Camas and Washougal.
“We asked, ‘What does the community want to see (on the waterfront)?'” Ripp said in his State of the Community address. “Last Monday we presented three concepts. And it’s not about what we want, it’s about what you want.”
Ripp said Port leaders are looking at the three concept designs to see which elements from each design most appeal to community members.
“We’re trying to look at what you like in the options,” Ripp said.
The Port will “meld” those ideas into a main design concept that the public should be able to see later this year, Ripp said. (For more information about the three waterfront designs, see a related article in today’s Post-Record.)
In Snell’s State of the Community address, the school district leader highlighted recent accomplishments within the district — a Camas educator named Washington’s 2020 Teacher of the Year; graduation rates topping 90 percent; nearing completion on facilities funded by the district’s 2016 building bond and working through a 2019-20 budget that saw revenue deficits of more than $8 million.
School funding has been “volatile” over the past two to three years, Snell said, and may continue to be volatile for the next couple years as school districts and state legislators continue to grapple with the issue of adequately — and equitably — funding Washington’s K-12 public schools.
“We went through 4.5 percent budget reductions last year and that was tough,” Snell said. “No one wants to go through a budget reduction process.”
On the positive side, Snell pointed to the district’s recent acquisition of the former UL property and building in Camas, the opening of the new Lacamas Lake Elementary and Discovery High schools and 2016 building-bond work that will soon “bring the Garver Theatre back online” and upgrade athletic fields with new turf.
Snell said district leaders and educators are working to address students’ social-emotional health in Camas.
“You’ve told us you’re worried about kids’ stress levels and (emotional) health,” Snell said, adding that recent surveys showing one in five Camas students have expressed self-harm or suicidal thoughts are concerning.
“We know it’s not OK,” Snell said of the “one in five” number and of recent data showing suicide deaths in Camas have not decreased in recent years.
He encouraged community members to look at the district’s 2-year-old “All-Student Wellness Program,” which offers in-person classes, online videos and other resources for improving young people’s social-emotional health at camas.wednet.edu.
City to host ‘Camas 101’ courses
Education and community outreach was another aspect of Turk’s city presentation at the State of the Community, and the mayor said city leaders are holding Ward meetings throughout the year to speak about issues that impact various areas of the city.
Also new in 2020 is “Camas 101,” a program Turk has modeled on the Leadership Clark County courses that teach citizens about the inner workings of county government.
The Camas 101 program will offer an eight-week course, with a maximum of 25 participants, to teach community members about the history of Camas, the roles of the city’s mayor and city council, and the city’s role in funding and implementing various programs and city services.
“We envision this as a way to meet your neighbors and know more about your community,” Turk said of the Camas 101 program, which is slated to begin in 2020.