WENATCHEE — It was hugs and smiles all around at the Chelan County Courthouse as a crowd of local officials were told that voters approved a tax measure to rescue the Town Toyota Center from financial disaster.
“We’re on to the final chapter,” Pete Fraley, attorney for the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District, told Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, as the two hugged.
“Good for the region for stepping up,” Kuntz said. “None of this is easy. But it had to be done.”
WENATCHEE — It may still be another six to eight months or even longer before the Town Toyota Center’s debt is paid off, even with the apparent passing of a regional tax increase.
Here’s what will happen next:
Soon after the election is certified on April 27, the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities Board will meet and vote to impose the 0.1 percent sales tax in the cities of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Cashmere, Entiat, Chelan, Rock Island, the town of Waterville and unincorporated areas of Chelan and Douglas counties.
Thirty days after that, a new board will be appointed by the nine jurisdictions that make up the PFD. Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz is expected to sit on the board.
The new PFD board and the city of Wenatchee will work out a financial package, using the proceeds from the regional sales tax and the 0.2 percent sales tax imposed without voter approval in Wenatchee, to pay off the current outstanding bond anticipation notes.
The 0.2 percent tax hike in Wenatchee will go into effect on July 1 and the 0.1 percent tax increase across the nine jurisdictions will take effect on Oct. 1.
If all goes as planned, new bonds would be sold in six to eight months to pay off the bond anticipation notes that have been in default since Dec. 1.
— Michelle McNiel, World staff
About two-thirds of the votes tallied so far in Chelan and Douglas counties were in favor of a measure that will raise the sales tax by 0.1 percent to help pay off the arena’s nearly $42 million debt, which went into default last December.
The measure needed a simple majority to pass.
Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore said that while the election is never final until it officially closes in a couple of weeks, it’s not likely that the result will change. He said ballots that are dropped off or mailed on election day and are counted afterward tend to follow the same trend as the election night totals.
More ballots will be counted in both counties at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“That’s great,” said Al Lorenz, a Lake Chelan area businessman who was outspoken in his opposition to the tax increase. “There’s a solution in place, and this puts the issue, at least for awhile, behind us. I hope the community stays happy about this a few years from now.”
The crowd gathered at the Chelan County Courthouse on Tuesday was all in support of the tax, and consisted mostly of city of Wenatchee and PFD officials. Most expressed surprise that the vote was not closer.
“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of strongly-held beliefs on this issue,” Fraley said. “In those cases, you never know how it’s going to ultimately break down.”
Tim Cetto, chairman of the PFD board, added, “It’s been a long year and a half for this board, with twists and turns every time you turn around.”
“In the end, the voters held the wild card and they voted ‘yes,’” he said.
Kuntz thanked voters “from Chelan to Rock Island, and unincorporated areas around Leavenworth to Wenatchee” for supporting the tax measure.
“Wenatchee needs to be thankful,” he said. “Wenatchee needs to be humble. We got into a real problem and the region bailed us out. As long as I’m mayor, we’ll never forget that.”
He added, “Today is a day to celebrate. This is a huge step for us.”
It is estimated that the tax will bring in about $1.7 million a year in the nine jurisdictions that make up the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District. Those areas are the cities of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Cashmere, Entiat, Chelan, Rock Island, the town of Waterville and unincorporated areas of Chelan and Douglas counties.
Josh Tarr, a Wenatchee businessman and a leader of the tax-support effort, was enjoying a celebratory beer at Columbia Valley Brewing with other supporters on Tuesday night. But he said he didn’t see the election results as something to celebrate.
“I’m more excited for this day to have come and to get past this point,” he said. “My real dream is that we can eventually be incredibly proud of this place (the Town Toyota Center) as a community.”
He added, “We’ve finally put the cart behind the horse, where it belongs. We should have had the tax in place before we built the arena. … Maybe we should looking at changing the way government works and not have such a powerful mayor position that can potentially steamroll something like this through.”
Tarr applauded Kuntz for his leadership in finding a way to pay off the arena’s debt.
“He knows numbers and he found a way to fix this,” Tarr said. “It’s not a very popular way. But obviously the voters got behind it.”
Lorenz, who set up a Website and Facebook page to oppose the tax measure, said he doesn’t begrudge its apparent success.
“I hope they make it work,” he said. “But the history with sports stadiuims is that they tend to become obsolete before they are paid for. … I just felt like I needed to speak out because things weren’t being spoken. But whatever the public wants is good with me.”
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152