Thursday, February 13, 2014
WALLA WALLA — Four years of battling to save Pioneer Park Aviary ended Wednesday night when Council voted 5-2 to close the facility.
“I sadly put forth the motion that we move forward with Recommendation Four from our city staff and close the aviary,” Council member Allen Pomraning said.
That motion was seconded by Barbara Clark, who has consistently opposed funding the aviary with general funds that could be used for other underfunded city programs. Clark has also questioned if Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary — a nonprofit that took over funding the aviary in 2011 — has been able to provide the $55,000 needed each year for operating the aviary.
“It is unfair to ask a voluntary group to be put in the position of having to raise $55,000 a year,” Clark said before the vote. “I don’t think that you have been able to do it. You had the city put in money for the last couple years. You have had the Roundup program,” referring to approximately $10,000 donated by city utility customers.
Clark, Pomraning and Council members Dick Morgan, Mary Lou Jenkins and Mayor Jerry Cummins voted for Pomraning’s motion to close the aviary.
Jim Barrow and Chris Plucker voted against the closure.
“I do want to issue a word of caution and that is if we are to value the perception of city government to our citizens we will keep this aviary open,” Plucker said before the vote. “I feel that shutting it down, the backlash will be very negative.”
During discussion, Barrow made a motion to fund the aviary from the city’s general fund, which it did before 2011 before funding was completely cut for three years.
“I want this to be part of our park. I want this to be what I and other people in this audience and community are paying for when we pay our taxes,” Barrow said.
He included in his motion that $190,000 in aviary restoration money be used to rebuild the larger enclosure and the city to backfill any capital expenses that Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary doesn’t raise for the $385,000 project.
“It has been three years, the city needs to step up. The people have spoken. They want this,” said Plucker, who seconded Barrow’s motion. “We certainly could afford several hundred-thousand dollars worth of raises a month ago. Why can’t we fund something people will see immediate value in.”
Barrow’s motion to fund the aviary failed 2-5.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dumont said today the process of closing the aviary, tearing down and landscaping the site could take anywhere from six months to year. He said a rough estimate of the work would be $100,000 and include salaries while the birds are relocated.
Over the next couple weeks his department will work on a closure plan.
“It seems pretty massive at the moment so we will break it down step by step,” Dumont said, noting there are questions as to how long the process will take and whether birds can be shipped to new homes before the heat of summer. “Nothing is going to happen with the birds for the next two weeks because we have to take care of the employee issues. And we don’t know because we have never done this before.”
Before the closure vote, former Council member Shane Laib, chairman of Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary, cautioned the city that it could not use $190,000 in dedicated funds for anything but repairing the aviary.
Dumont said those funds are a mixture of Federal Emergency Management Agency and private insurance funds that were paid to the city for storm damage to the aviary.
City Attorney Tim Donaldson said he was unsure if the funds were restricted to repair work.
Laib added that Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary hasn’t given up and will meet this week to plan their next move.
“We are organizing an emergency meeting to explore options and those do include legal options,” Laib said. “We are going to explore all options here and every option is going to be on the table.”
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.