The closure of the Astoria Aquatic Center and ending youth and adult sports programs at the end of August hangs in the balance as the city council considers staffs plan to raise an additional $425,000 at Monday’s regular session.
The funding package combines a new fee imposed on every water meter both residential and commercial. That fee would add $3 per month for a total of $6 on water bills which are issued every two months. It would require the city to take a complete inventory of all multifamily units to make certain that apartment buildings on a single water meter are charged the fee for each unit of housing. Since neither the city nor the county has a complete inventory of all levels of multifamily housing in Astoria the City Manager, Brett Estes, says the council's desire to charge the new fee uniformly on a unit basis would cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to complete. He does add that having such an inventory would be helpful in getting a better handle on Astoria's housing capabilities.
The package also includes an increase in the transient lodging tax people pay to stay in any Astoria lodging facility. That tax is 9% of the room fee now and under the plan would increase to 11%. Additionally, the city attorney Blair Henningsgaard has issued an opinion that while the state requires 70% of those collected taxes to be applied directly to tourism related items the city could justify some of that money be used for parks facilities frequented by tourists. 30% of that tax money may be deposited in the city general fund earmarked for parks as well.
This plan is referred to as a “life raft” to keep the Parks and Recreation Department afloat for a period of time as the council pursues a permanent funding solution.
If the council decides to sink the life raft proposal then staff says the department would focus attention on maintenance of parks including the Ocean View Cemetery and cut funding for the Aquatic Center on September 1st closing that facility and also eliminate youth and adult recreation programs entirely at the end of August. The department has already announced the elimination of several Parks Department sponsored events such as the annual Monster Bash, Easter Egg Hunts and Fun Runs to save on staff time.
An analysis of financial demands on the Parks Department has determined that while the subsidy level for all divisions is lower than the national average and those of similar sized communities in the state and cost recovery is higher than many other parks departments achieve, neither of those factors provides enough to ensure safe and sustainable operations for the most expensive divisions.
Cuts were made to the Parks Department in the new fiscal year budget in favor of funding essential services such as Fire and Police.
The City Council meets Monday, July 17th at 7:00 PM.