The following message is from Mayor Amy Walen and Councilmember Toby Nixon:
As the November election for the Aquatic, Recreation and Community Center (ARC) approaches, some have asked why the Council chose to create a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) to build the ARC rather than a “traditional” bond. The answer is that the MPD is the most cost effective and flexible tool to deliver the ARC that the Kirkland community has requested from us.
In the fall of 2013 the City Council did not have an ARC ballot measure as a priority. Then the Lake Washington School District informed the community it would not be replacing the Juanita Aquatic Center and might close the city’s only indoor pool as early as 2017. Hundreds of residents showed up over the course of several Council meetings and asked the City Council to find a solution.
The Council responded decisively but responsibly. While an ARC has been requested by many residents since 2001, the Council wanted to be sure that the entire community shared this vision and saw it as a priority.
Over the past two years the Council has invested $500,000 to evaluate potential public and private sites, identify preliminary cost estimates and identify potential programmatic elements through the Park Board and extensive public outreach. Since the fall of 2013 the ARC has been reviewed by the Park Board seventeen times, the city has conducted three statistically valid surveys regarding the ARC, held eighteen workshops, presented at nine neighborhood meetings, received thousands of responses to two virtual open houses, twice mailed information about the ARC to all households in Kirkland and the ARC has been a major topic at twelve Council meetings.
The conclusions of this extensive outreach and analysis were both exciting and confounding. The public overwhelmingly supported a first class combined aquatic, recreation and community center to serve children and seniors, residents and businesses. But the majority did not want to see current Kirkland parks lost to hosting the facility. Many called for partnerships with neighboring cities, school districts, and non-profits. The Council agreed and reached out to many organizations and held joint Council meetings with both Redmond and Bellevue about building a regional ARC together. Not surprisingly, potential partners all want Kirkland voters to weigh in before making any commitments.
A “traditional” bond is an expensive and risky way to meet the community desire for an ARC on private land. A bond measure would require that the City own the property for the ARC and have an accurate estimate of the total costs. The 7-9 acres of private land for the ARC will cost up to $20 million dollars. The ARC design costs could range as high as another $5 million. The City Council could not responsibly spend such staggering sums prior to knowing if the public really wanted the ARC. While acquired land might be resold, millions in design costs would be lost if the public voted no. And if the public voted yes, there would be no financial incentive for partners to contribute to a facility that has already been approved.
Therefore the Council settled on the MPD as the most cost effective and flexible way to finance the ARC. The MPD avoids the need to risk millions of dollars of upfront costs. If the MPD passes, the City can acquire land and find public and private partners to lower the overall cost. MPD funds can be spent on joint facilities with Redmond or Bellevue which could save Kirkland taxpayers tens of millions prior to setting the initial levy rate.
Opponents have said “We want the ARC, just not by an MPD because future Councils can raise the MPD rates without a vote.” This is true. But Kirkland has a strong history of Councils that listen to residents and serve the public interest. If future Councils violate that trust, voters can and should replace them. If you truly want an ARC, vote yes in November. This is the first chance voters have been given in 15 years. No one can say when a vote on the ARC will come again. Future Councils will face the same financing challenges we did. It is hard to imagine they will reach different conclusions. This Council prides itself on strong financial management. We have earned a AAA credit rating. We have received awards from both the Washington Coalition for Open Government and the State Auditor for our accountability and transparency. We have been thorough and thoughtful in our work. We are proposing an MPD to save taxpayers money and provide them a choice. It is time to call the question. We have presented an MPD to fund an ARC for the community, shaped by the community. We urge you to vote yes.