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Arlington County's Future Aquatics Center Again on Page 1

The Arlington Sun Gzaette's Scott McCaffrey reports on the front-page of this week's paper (August 4-10. 2016) that cost estimates for the Aquatics Center are "still sketchy' and annual subsidies will still be required. According to McCaffrey:

"Even a reduced-in-scale Long Bridge Park aquatics center will require taxpayer subsidies to support operations, according to the latest estimates. How much the public will need to kick in, however, remains up in the air.

"Current staff projections call for an operating deficit of $540,000 to $1.05 million per year when the Crystal City facility opens, not counting the cost of servicing construction debt.

"That’s a major drop from the $1.9 million to $3.8 million operating subsidy estimated two-and-a-half years ago, when the project was far more grandiose in scale. It was the ballooning projected cost of both construction and operation that led then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan to put the facility on hold in January 2014.

"The revamped proposal by County Manager Mark Schwartz calls for a facility  about 35 percent smaller in scale than the original, with the construction costs of $40 million to $44 million being covered with funds available from park bonds approved by voters in 2004 and 2012.

"Under the downsized scenario, the estimated operating cost of the facility would total just under $4 million per year, based on 2019 dollars, with revenue estimated at $2.9 million to $3.4 million.

"Whether County Board members will be comfortable with those figures is an open question."

McCaffrey then writes about the Arlington County Board's primary budget hawk on the Aquatics Center, saying:

"The primary budget hawk on the project continues to be board member John Vihstadt, pressing county officials to squeeze any subsidy to the bare minimum.

“We want to be able to hold costs down,” he said. “Hopefully, we can do even more.”

He also quotes Arlington's quintessential fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki about the latest cost estimates, writing:

"Wayne Kubicki, a fiscal watchdog who helped lead opposition to the higher-cost aquatics center, seems pleased that the project is being scaled back, but still worries that it could be a budget-buster.

“The county’s track record at projecting revenue/operating costs on its facilities has not been very good,” Kubicki said. “These new numbers – which hopefully are better – still show operating deficits of $500,000 to $1 million per year.  Debt service is on top of that. So we’d be approaching a $5 million-per-year hit on the county operating budget, for a facility in a difficult-to-get-to location, that how many residents will be using?”

"Arlington voters by a 76-percent majority in 2004 approved a park bond that, they were told at the time, would cover the entire cost of the Long Bridge Park project. But in 2012, county officials had to come back and seek additional funding through another park bond, at a time when public discontent over what critics derided as gold-plated “vanity” projects in Arlington was beginning to gather steam."

If you didn't read the paper edition of the Sun Gazette delivered to your home, or the entire online article, take a few minutes to read the entire article since it contains a great deal more information about the Aquatics Center, especially the bond issues and cost information.

And talk about hair-brained, backwards planning, McCaffrey writes that "a cost structure for users won’t come until the facility is approaching completion." While a cost structure might not be step 1 in the entrepreneur's manual, it would certainly get done long before project completion.

Ever since the Acquatics Center became the vanity project du jure, we've growled about it.  Most recently we growled on May 20, 2016, saying the new CIP 'seeks no additional funds for the aquatics center.' On April 13, 2016, we growled that a 'pared down' Acquatics Center could be in Arlington's future. And on August 14, 2015, we growled that the latest proposal drew 'mixed reaction." Use the Growls search facility, located in the lower right corner, for additional posts.

Growls readers are urged to write to the Arlington County Board to express your views on the Aquatics Center. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

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