The water surface was as smooth as glass during its last week of limited operation in mid-February, when it was open to accommodate the OHHS Boys Swim Team and the North Whidbey Aquatic Club. All appeared calm from above, but underneath swirled the stormy seas of controversy that have plagued the Vanderzicht pool for several years. With the failure of the NWPRD Levy, Executive Director Steve “Caz” McCaslin and one of the remaining pool employees wear more hats than before, including custodian, cashier, and water quality manager in addition to those of their regular duties.
In the budget that Caz prepared and presented to the Board (based primarily on cash on hand revenue), he suggested the elimination of the ED job first since it was the highest cost to the District, which means he will be out of a job in the next month or two. While trying to grow the team and subsequent dues to cover the funding of NWAC coach Caz noted, “Most programs at the pool lose money and we were working to fix or minimize that loss.” Caz believes that Richard Fort’s October 24, 2017 Letter to the Editor, in which the then-Commissioner discussed the disparity in fees lane use fees for OHHS versus NWAC swimmers and that, “…because of past spending from our reserve account, we may still need to come back to the taxpayers in a couple of years for a pool repair bond” was likely one of the factors that negatively influenced some ballot-in-hand voters.
Six years prior, on October 25, 2011, the WNT printed the first of several Letters submitted by Mr. Fort critical of funding for Master’s and NWAC, “two swim clubs which have only 100 or so members get to use…a large portion of the pool time and are funded in the budget at near $100,000 (about $1,000 per member)…if the NWPRD levy fails the pool will not close permanently, the users of the pool will find a fairer way to fund it.” This prophetic letter was just a nick in what would become cuts of controversy deep enough to sink the Levy and suspend operations at the Vanderzicht pool.
October 2013 WNT reports on the NWAC financials findings in the Fraud Report (1/1/11 through 12/31/12. At the time of the firings, a former NWAC treasurer and a fellow NWAC parent were about $11,000 in arrears in fees. Once it was reported, both paid the outstanding balances.
January/February 2018 North Whidbey Community Pool & Recreation Foundation is formed and begins fundraising. Pool aquatic operations suspended indefinitely.
During the past few weeks, I’ve poured through WNT articles and Letters, the 2011-2012 fraud report, Island County court records and Washington State Charities programs documents, spoken to Executive Director Steve McCaslin and reached out to one former (no response) and one current Commissioner (Wendy Shingleton) for information and answers. Caz noted that he and the NWAC Coach recommended to the Board at the June 23, 2016 Meeting that NWAC be given three years to build the team to a level that could be self-sustaining. No official action was taken, but he wishes they’d have been given that chance.
Commissioner Wendy Shingleton’s answer to the question, What are our chances of operating without a taxpayer subsidy? “I hope we don’t have to find that out, but…I believe there is a mandate to change the way the district operates for sustainability. In recent years, we have depended on 60% of revenue being levy money. We must find other revenue streams and perhaps even an improved operating model.”