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Legislators decide against funding Ontario pool

ONTARIO — A request to fund the construction of an outdoor pool and other facilities in Ontario that was slated to open in May 2024 died in the Oregon Legislature.

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, who introduced House Bill 2410 to help pay for construction of the Ontario Community Recreation Center, confirmed in a Thursday, June 22, email that the legislation did not make it out of the Ways and Means Committee. The request was his top priority for state funding, he said.

The bill would have funneled $4.5 million to the recreation district for the pool. The money also would have helped with tennis courts, a gymnasium and skate park.

To begin renovating the old aquatic center, the district needs just under $1 million in hand to start the bidding process, according to Andrew Maeda, executive director of the Ontario Recreation District. The total price for the project is $6.4 million.

Meada said the district continues searching for funding and plans to move forward quickly to close the funding gap before the permits expire.

Meada said the district would continue looking for grant funding and money at the state and local levels and private donations from citizens who continue to support the project.

Megan Cook, an Ontario Recreation District Board member, said the district would submit a funding request to Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, the public body known as the Border Board that was established to grow the economy along the Malheur County and Idaho border.

In December, the district sought $2 million, but the Border Board did not approve the request because it fell outside the board’s normal funding options.

Last year, the Legislature allocated $6 million to the border board. Since then, the board has been mulling how to spend the money.

Meanwhile, Meada said it was a “gut punch of a day” to learn the project would not get the state funding since so many people in Ontario supported it, and the community has waited for years to see it move forward.

Cook said the sentiment from Salem sounded optimistic two days before finding out that legislative leaders declined to approve the funding.

“All of a sudden,” Cook said, “it just fell flat.”

Legislators did approve Sen. Lynn Findley’s request for another $5 million for the stalled Treasure Valley Reload Center project in Nyssa.

Maeda said the project had been a grassroots effort, with countless volunteers donating time and effort. His “biggest grievance” in learning the project would not get the funding was that so many people put time into the project, only to find out that Ontario would have to wait for another year to see if they would find the money somewhere.

Maeda said on behalf of district officials, they apologize for “falling short” on getting the funding.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the narrative of a future pool being one year away has come and gone several times in this community, and it is very upsetting to have allowed it to happen again.”

Cook said the community has been working to get funding for a pool for nearly a decade. She said they likely could have completed the project if Ontario had relied on local donations.

“It’s just so unfortunate that we just can’t get the state to acknowledge our side of the state,” Cook said. 

While she is not involved in politics, Cook said she wonders how much of an impact the six-week Senate Republican walkout that paused the bill in the Joint Ways and Means Committee had on the bill’s chances.

The pool renovation in the Ontario Recreation District, formed by voters in 2018, has been the district’s singular aim.

The plan is to replace the former indoor pool at Lions Park on Southwest Fourth Avenue with a new outdoor pool.

Over the years, the recreation district and pool committee members have gradually chipped away at the cost with fundraisers and donations.

Maeda said local voters passed a transient occupancy tax to fund long-term maintenance and operations of the aquatic center.

“Our citizens have voted time and time again,” he said. “And they have shown their support in every possible way.”

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