Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Is the Pioneer Park Aviary worth saving?
A recent survey conducted by the city of Walla Walla showed little support for the Aviary. It was ranked dead last among the list of citizens' priorities.
But is it really?
Earlier, when the City Council targeted the Aviary for closure, a group of citizens stepped forward and raised well over $100,000 to keep the bird sanctuary operating. It's not easy to raise that kind of money, particularly in the midst of a recession.
The public, through the survey and its actions, have sent a mixed signal to city officials.
Tonight at 7 the City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget to help it establish spending priorities at a time when general tax revenues have fallen short of expectations and, more importantly, spending requests.
Complicating matters (but it's a good complication) is a $100,000 windfall. The cash comes from the sales tax collected on two multimillion dollar construction projects -- one at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the other at the Washington State Penitentiary.
City leaders are not inclined to use the money in the general budget for salaries and day-to-day expenses because it would lead to deeper cuts down the road as those funds dry up.
Instead, it is being recommended the money be used for one-time expenses such as a fire station re-roofing, a new HVAC system for the library, a seismic retrofit study for the 104-year-old City Hall and the structural reviews of 27 bridges. The $100,000 won't go particularly far on that list. And city officials said they could easily go to more than $1 million on the list of fix-up projects that eventually must be done.
We would have no problem with the city sinking the windfall into any of those projects.
But we believe it is worth considering putting the $100,000 into keeping the Aviary open for another two years. This will give those passionate about the Aviary more time to come up with a long-term funding solution.
The Aviary is clearly enjoyed by some locals and might well be a draw for tourists. This is an issue that needs to be looked at from all angles.
If the decision is made to shut down the Aviary, the birds are given new homes and the cages and netting taken down, the Aviary is gone forever. That's a decision that cannot be revoked.