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Council accepts KJ Pool

y ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Recreational swimmers, therapeutic swimmers, competitive swimmers and learning swimmers can rest assured they’ll have some chlorinated, blue-green water in which to dunk, dive, stretch, butterfly stroke and back float long after King County washes its hands of community pools.

The Federal Way City Council last Tuesday agreed to take ownership of the Kenneth Jones Pool from the county in exchange for a piece of potential park property known as the Kenwood Pit as well as $76,000 in mothball funds and $125,000 in cash the county would have used for maintenance and operation of other pools.

The 2001 attendance at the Kenneth Jones Pool was 79,148, according to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

City staff also are preparing to draw up plans for a new community center, senior center and pool facility — estimated in the 2003-04 budget to cost $10 million — that will be funded by the recent 1 percent increase in the utility tax.

A city ordinance the council passed Nov. 19 dedicates the 1 percent utility tax increase to cover the cost of operating the Kenneth Jones pool for a couple years and to provide enough annual revenue to allow the city to issue bonds to build a new community center and pool.

Though the council passed the utility tax increase to cover construction of the community center, state law doesn’t restrict or limit collection of the tax or its use.

Revenue generated from the utility tax goes into the city’s utility tax fund and is spent according to council policy, assistant city manager Derek Matheson said. Prior councils have dedicated utility tax revenue to capital projects.

Since the 1 percent utility tax increase was specified by council ordinance to cover the cost of the community center and pool, Matheson said, the money, about $1.25 million a year, will probably be transferred to the parks department’s capital projects fund.

The city would use the $1.25 million Ba year to pay off the bonds.

Retiring the tax after the community center is built is up for a future council to decide, “but given the precedent, it’s probably not going away,” Councilman Eric Faison said. “We have so many needs.”

Parks department director Jennifer Shroder told the council last Tuesday the planning and design of the new community center could take two or three years.

The city will begin collecting the utility tax in January and using as much as necessary to keep the Kenneth Jones pool open. City staff estimate the pool will cost about $300,000 a year to operate.

City staff will set aside the difference to cover construction of the new facility when the time comes.

The community center emerged in late fall as a priority issue for the 2003-04 budget cycle after Federal Way residents told the council in person and through an online survey the city needs a community center and senior center.

The city’s six-year capital improvement plan already included construction of a community center and senior center, but not until 2005.

The pool portion was included because many Federal Way residents urged the council to keep the Kenneth Jones pool open after the county announced it would be closing pools because of budget shortfalls.

Matheson said the city has had an estimate for a community center in the capital improvement plan for several years. When it emerged last fall as a priority issue for Federal Way’s 2003-04 budget cycle, city staff made a few inquiries and arrived at a $10 million figure.

Matheson said $10 million to $11 million was a good estimate, but Councilwoman Linda Kochmar expressed doubts, both at the reality of the budget estimates and at the urgency to get started on the community center this year.

She also maintains the tax wouldn’t be needed if the municipal facility project came in under budget or if another project was dropped from the budget.

The council hasn’t discussed what they’d do with the difference between the actual cost of building a municipal facility and the $24.5 million budgeted if the cops, courts and city hall facility comes in under budget, but Faison said even if it did, the difference wouldn’t be enough to cover construction of the community center and pool.

The $1.25 million from the utility tax would be collected every year, he said, while any municipal facility savings would be one-time money.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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