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Medford starts bond process for aquatic complex, faces challenges

Medford City Council started a $60 million bond process Thursday to pay for an aquatic complex with two pools despite a legal cloud over one of the methods to pay for it.

“This is an investment we’re making in our community,” said Councilor Clay Bearnson.

Councilor Dick Gordon cast the only dissenting vote, saying he didn’t consider an aquatics center to be an essential service. He said he’d prefer the residents of Medford were more involved in the decision.

“I cannot support the manner in which this council is going ahead without a vote of the people,” he said.

The city plans to build two indoor pools and an 89,559-square-foot event and recreation facility at Howard Memorial Park, situated at the corner of Ross Lane and Rossanley Drive.

The sports complex is designed to allow multiple events to take place simultaneously.

Voters in May approved Measure 15-188, which changes the city charter to increase the lodging tax from 9% to 11%. The council will use the increase in the lodging tax to help pay about $13 million for the facility.

Another measure, 15-187, closes a loophole in the city’s ordinance to capture hotel taxes from vacation rentals such as Airbnb.

At this point, the council has started the bond process, but it will have to iron out the complicated method of paying for it, particularly a legal challenge to the expanded car rental fees.

The city received a letter from car rental companies challenging the legal basis for the car rental fees.

Rick Whitlock, city attorney, said the constitutional issues raised by the car companies were not on his radar.

“It came out of left field and needs to be addressed before council can take action,” he said.

Whitlock said the legal arguments that have been raised are complex and will need some time for staff to investigate.

Councilor Alex Poythress supported the sports complex and said he wanted to go forward with the bond process despite the cloud over car rental fees.

“I’ve read a lot of letters from lawyers, and this one is kind of serious,” he said.

The council was going to consider an ordinance to expand car rental fees but has postponed the issue until July 16.

The council also voted to increase the park utility fee $2.40 a month to $5.35, but the storm utility fee will be reduced by $2.40 a month for residential customers to help offset some of park fee hike.

City officials have estimated it would cost from $56.9 million to $60.7 million to build the project, which could open by 2023.

The proposal calls for a recreational pool that would have a shallow entry for young children as well as an artificial river and a vortex. On one side would be a three-lane, 25-yard lap pool. Nearby would be two tubular slides, one 164 feet long, the other 176 feet in length, and an outdoor splash pad similar in size to the one at Hawthorne Park.

To attract regional swim meets, water polo competitions and other events, a 13-lane competition pool would be built inside an adjacent building. Lockers and other facilities would be constructed next to the pools, and a food truck court would be installed next to the building.

The buildings would have roll-up doors that could be opened during fair weather.

City officials want to build new pools to replace the 1960s-era Jackson Pool and the former Hawthorne Park pool, which was closed in 2010 and demolished. Parks maintenance workers continue to keep Jackson Pool operational despite its age.

The hope is the new pools would be a regional draw, much like U.S. Cellular Community Park in south Medford.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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