The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

Grandstands Decision Still on Hold

Waitsburg Council undecided despite vote in favor of grandstand teardown


WAITSBURG – In spite of a strong public response in favor of tearing down the Waitsburg Fairgrounds grandstands on an advisory ballot item vote last month, the Waitsburg City Council is still torn on how to move forward.

The recurring action item was once again tabled on the April 18 council agenda in order to take a closer look at the possibility of reinstituting a Parks & Recreation District to raise funds for the fairgrounds.

Of the 211 citizens voting on the April advisory ballot item, posed to gauge community opinion on whether to demolish, repair or replace the fairgrounds grandstands, 124 voted in favor of demolition, 81 voted for restoration and six voted for complete replacement of the facilities.

“Beyond the vote of the people, I have nothing else to offer on this item,” City Manager Randy Hinchliffe told the council. “I’ve provided all the information I can on the structure from engineering and insurance reports to demolition estimates and a single repair proposal over the past couple of years, to the tune of about $10,000.”

“I propose putting our Parks & Recreation District back in motion. There hasn’t been one since 1993,” said council member Kate Hockersmith, who said she has already engaged in preliminary research on the process.

Hockersmith said she has spoken with Connie Vinti from the Walla Walla County Commissioner’s office, who is looking into what would be involved in getting the District up and running.

“Our thought is not to be about taxing people. We hope to find funds through grants and the like,” Hockersmith told The Times.

Hockersmith told the council that several “young people,” including Friends of the Pool President Trevor Johnson, Danielle Carpenter and Jaimee Knudson, have already expressed interest in helping revive the district and said she has reached out to several others.

“I like the idea. I think the idea of a new taxing district, especially a broad one, for Park and Rec is a great idea that merits discussion,” said council member KC Kuykendall. “It seems like it’s outside the purview of what’s in front of us, so I suggest we put it on the next agenda.”

Hinchliffe said that establishing a parks and rec district and passing a levy would mean it would be at least two years before any funds became available. Hockersmith felt there is be a possibility of receiving grants earlier than that.

Citizen Lane Hill beseeched the council to save the grandstands for its historical value.

“You’ve lost the mill, you’ve lost the packing plant. You have lost every city-owned building that’s historical. This is one last thing that can bring people into my business. I want to revitalize Main Street. That grandstands has the potential to bringing in concerts from the wineries,” Hill said.

Hill also criticized the way the advisory item was worded on the ballot saying it was more of a “tax vote” than a grandstands vote.

“It wasn’t whether the grandstands had value, it was whether they wanted their taxes raised, and it didn’t say by how much or that we were willing to raise money. I was personally willing to donate $10,000 and I know there are others who are willing to contribute,” she said. “It’s not like it’s going to fall and cause damage. It can wait until we have time to raise money,” she added.

Commercial Club President Joy Smith said that funds could be raised through the Blue Mountain Foundation or the Touchet Valley Acoustic Music Project rather than through a Parks and Recreation District and noted that the advisory ballot item did not address the fact that retaining the grandstands would require ongoing maintenance expenses.

Kuykendall said he didn’t want to be tied to an agenda and forced to make a vote during the meeting.

“The formation of a Parks and Rec is not a five-minute conversation and there are some other options . . . at some point we do owe the citizens a decision. . . the grandstands is part of a bigger conversation of how are we going to manage, maintain and fund the fairgrounds in perpetuity, because the fairgrounds is more than just one building,” he said.

Citizen and former council member Larry Johnson took the council to task for seemingly ignoring the wishes of the voters.

“It was an overwhelming decision by the voters what they prefer. And it doesn’t appear that our council is giving that any weight, whatsoever, by coming up with workarounds to get around what the citizens wanted,” Johnson said. “It seems like you’re totally abandoning what people voted and you wonder why people don’t vote. You only had 20-30% of your voters voting and I can see why. It’s a wasted effort.”

“The result of that advisory vote has a big impact on my perspective,” Kuykendall said in response. “But the vote didn’t mandate that we tear it down tomorrow. When we come back and have this conversation next month, my perspective is very much influenced by the fact that the majority of people that did provide some input would just as soon tear it down. So that’s got to be rolled into the conversation.”

“I think they just didn’t want to pay for it,” council member Terry Jacoy said.

The topic will be revisited during the May 16, City Council Meeting.


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