County gives layoff notices to pool employees


Sports editor

County employees at the Kenneth Jones Memorial Pool near Federal Way High School received layoff notices Thursday.

The county gave notice to approximately 80 employees in the parks and recreation division. Federal Way’s Kenneth Jones pool has two full-time staff members who received notices. The 20 to 30 part-time employees are also losing their jobs, but were not included in the county’s number of employees who received layoff notices.

The layoffs are the latest of many steps the county has taken toward closing the pool to public use by Jan. 1 unless an alternative owner is found. The layoffs take effect “no later than Dec. 31, contingent upon council approval” of County Executive Ron Sims’ executive budget proposal in October.

Ron Sims spokeswoman Elaine Kraft said the county did not offer employees severance packages.

“But we gave them the notices now knowing they will have jobs through the end of the year,” Kraft said.

The county is also offering employees other jobs with the county, if positions are available.

The pool is operating on a reduced schedule for the fall.

Kraft said the County is hoping the City of Federal Way will purchase the pool facility.

“We keep trimming and hopefully the cities will step up to the plate,” Kraft said. “We will close facilities in cities if those cities won’t work with us to come up with a plan to operate the parks and pools.”

On Wednesday, the day prior to the layoff notices, King County Parks Division manager Bob Burns sent parks employees an e-mail, which was obtained by the Mirror, about “Media Protocols.”

A portion of the e-mail said:

“As we enter into the countywide budget process and another period of intense public discussion about the future of the Parks Division, it is critical that we all follow the department and county media protocols. This will help us get the maximum coverage of the good news about our work and programs and help focus our answers and response to criticism or potential negative comments.”

Burns said it was coincidental that the e-mail came out the day before the layoffs.

“There’s no connection to that,” he said “That’s coincidence.

“There’s no muzzle on people. If it’s a question about a basic operation issue, they can answer it. But if it’s something about the executive’s budget or policy issues, we want to make sure we’re giving the same answer. We have several hundred people working for us and it’s more efficient to have one media contact.”

County officials who are making the decisions are careful to not use the word “close” when referring to the fate of the pools. They prefer the term “mothballed,” which means the pools are kept full of water and maintained, but not open for public use.

“Technically that’s OK, and it’s still available for use if a solution is found,” Kraft said. “We’re able to flip a switch and they’re ready to go.”

The county has to do at least that much to fulfill legal requirements of the Forward Thrust bond, approved by voters in 1968.

The Forward Thrust bond, which expires in 2010, requires the Kenneth Jones facility to remain as a pool until that expiration time, unless King County transfers the pool to another entity.

Sims’ plan, which still needs the approval of the King County Council, would affect 10 county pools located within incorporated cities, including pools in Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn and Kent. The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is planned to remain open, as will five county pools in unincorporated areas.

King County has been able to shirk financial responsibility for other Forward Thrust pools by transferring them to incorporated cities, including Issaquah in 1995, Bellevue in 1996 and Shoreline in 1997.

The Federal Way City Council is looking into whether the city can afford to take ownership of the Kenneth Jones Pool.

At a July city council meeting, council members unanimously voted to direct City Manager David Mosely to continue discussion with King County and review the issues associated with the city taking over the pool and to report back to the council with options and recommendations.

“The one caveat is, due to the loss of some state funds, the city is in the process of reducing its budget,” said Derek Matheson, assistant city manger. “I think it’s fair to say the city council is interested in keeping that pool open and discussing in the budget process how that might happen. In the most likely scenario, the city would go to voters and ask whether the city would want to keep the pool open and increase the property tax. The property tax isn’t the only revenue that could possibly fund it, but it’s probably the best place to start the discussion.”

If the City Council chose to go the property tax route, the city would need to ask voters for about $20 more in annual property tax on the average home. The city would need to put the increase on the ballot because it would go beyond the 1 percent allowable property tax increase under I-747.

The city manager submits his recommended budget to the City Council in September.

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