CANYON CITY — The $4 million bond measure to raise funds for a new community pool in John Day has withstood a legal challenge from two local residents.
A request for a ballot title was filed on Feb. 23 by Lisa Weigum of the John Day/Canyon City Parks and Recreation District and was approved by County Clerk Brenda Percy to appear on the May 17 election ballot.
On March 4, Charlene Morris and Shaun Robertson filed a petition in Grant County Circuit Court raising several objections to the ballot title and asking the court to change the language of the measure as it would appear on the ballot.
Both Morris and Robertson are Grant County residents and both own property in the parks and rec district, according to their court filing.
In their petition, Morris and Robertson objected to all three parts of the bond measure’s ballot title: the 10-word caption, the 20-word question and the 175-word summary.
As proposed by the parks and rec district, the caption reads “General Obligation Bonds for Pool Facility.” The petition argued that the phrase “pool facility” was misleading because officials of the parks and rec district and the city of John Day have consistently referred to the project as an “aquatic center.”
Morris and Robertson also claimed that the caption might fool voters into believing that the bond measure would cover operations costs as well as construction expenses.
The petitioners also challenged the ballot measure’s question, which reads: “Shall John Day/Canyon City Parks and Recreation District issue $4,000,000 in bonds to finance a pool facility?”
As with the caption, Morris and Robertson argued that this part of the ballot title was misleading because it uses the phrase “pool facility” and fails to clarify that proceeds from the bond sales will be used for construction and not for operations.
The longer summary section, the petitioners claimed, contains additional statements that serve to “prejudicially and unfairly mislead voters,” including using the phrase “office space” to refer to multiple offices; using the phrase “multipurpose room” instead of “party room”; and using the word “improvements” to refer to new construction. Finally, they argued, the summary violated the “single-subject rule” for Oregon ballot measures by saying there would be a citizens oversight committee to monitor how the bond funds are spent.
The parks and rec district and the city of John Day, represented by Weigum and City Manager Nick Green, defended the ballot title by arguing that it met all legal requirements and was not misleading.
Umatilla County Circuit Judge Wes Williams presided over a 90-minute hearing on the matter Wednesday, March 16. (Williams was filling in for Grant County Circuit Judge Rob Raschio, who recused himself because of a potential conflict in the case.)
After hearing arguments from both sides, Williams declined to make any changes to the ballot title’s language, saying he did not find it misleading. Citing an Oregon Supreme Court ruling in another case, he added that his role was limited to determining whether the title met the letter of the law.
“It’s not my job to rewrite the ballot (title) or find a better way to say it,” Williams concluded.
“I am going to hold that the ballot title for the measure meets the requirements of ORS 250.037, and I am going to certify it.”
The measure will appear on the May 17 ballot for voters who live within the John Day/Canyon City Parks and Recreation District. If the measure is approved, the district will issue $4 million in general obligation bonds to be repaid over 20 years through taxes on property within the district.
The estimated tax rate is 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For the owner of a property valued at $150,000, that would mean an additional $105 a year in property tax payments.
The money would go toward the construction of a six-lane, 25-yard pool and adjoining structure with locker rooms, office space and a multipurpose room at the Seventh Street Sports Complex in John Day.
The overall price tag for the project is estimated at $6 million; a $2 million state grant would cover the difference between the bond proceeds and the total construction costs.