- Some residents feel that city government has no business being involved in a water recreation facility. They feel that recreation of this nature should be handled privately rather than at the taxpayers’ expense. In their mind, no one has a right to force his neighbor to pay for his own recreation.
- Some residents feel that the city can’t afford a swimming recreation facility. They want the city to be more fiscally responsible.
- Some residents feel that city officials made an end run around the wishes of voters in constructing a new water recreation facility.
- Some feel that the city’s recreational (Community Services) structure is mismanaged and uses its resources inefficiently.
Perhaps a little history would be useful. Here is a rough outline:
- 1965: The city builds a basic outdoor swimming pool.
- About 10 years ago: Several northern Utah cities build modern water recreation facilities with lots of fancy features. At the same time it is noted that the city pool is getting old. Maintenance costs are increasing and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the rustic facility operational.
- 2000: City officials propose bonding (requiring a tax increase) to construct a new outdoor swimming facility that will be on par with some of the other newer facilities in nearby municipalities. Proponents claim that the new pool will be financially self sustaining or even turn a profit. Voters oppose the measure by about a 6-4 margin.
- 2001: City officials begin discussing ways to build the facility without needing voter approval. The mayor loses by four votes to a challenger that denounces the pursuit of a new swimming pool as a fiasco.
- 2002-5: The city discovers that the old pool is leaking hundreds of gallons of water daily. Bids to repair the problem are cost prohibitive. The pool is eventually closed. City officials renew their efforts to find ways to fund the new swimming facility. Neighboring cities and the school district are approached for a possible joint venture, but this does not pan out. Pool proponents again claim that the new pool will more than pay for itself. City officials finally work a deal that does not require voter approval. Pool opponents cry that the new mayor has gone back on his word.
- 2005: The previous mayor convincingly beats the new mayor in an election rematch. Pool plans move forward.
- 2006: The new swimming facility opens more than a month late. It lacks some of the water play features that are installed later — some of them just in time for the 2007 season. When complete, the facility is very nice, but some youth group leaders complain that rates are so high that they can’t afford to bring youth groups to the facility.
- 2007: City officials propose bonding (requiring a tax increase) to construct a $2 million building that would house the lap pool, which is only half the size of a competitive Olympic pool. Covering this small pool, it is argued, will allow the facility to function year round. Opponents argue that this is fiscally irresponsible. Voters reject the proposal by a 3-1 ratio.
- 2007-9: The new swimming facility becomes fully operational. The city structures management of the pool to include three full-time year-round management positions. A new community services building is constructed to house the burgeoning staff structure.
Some residents are upset that the pool is losing about $83,000 annually. They wonder what happened to claims that the pool would actually make money. City officials are now fond of saying that no municipal pool pays for itself, let alone makes a profit. City parks don’t pay for themselves, yet we build and maintain them anyway because they enhance the community. Why would a pool or another recreation facility be any different, they reason.
This makes sense, but it is a huge departure from the rhetoric tossed around before the pool was built. Besides, some note that this year’s tax increase would not have been necessary without the pool’s operational shortfall.
It is clear that there are some sharp differences of opinion when it comes to the municipal swimming pool. Many residents are pleased to have the facility. This includes some people that voted against both of the bonds mentioned above. It seems to me that most residents want the city to live within its means without jacking up taxes. But most of these people also don’t want to know the details. They just want their elected officials to take care of it.
The fact of the matter is that the city now has a swimming facility that it will need to operate and maintain for the long term. That’s just not going to change, no matter how much people carp about it. The city now has an obligation to make the pool as broadly appealing and useful as possible. I think, however, that it would be wise and possible to more prudently structure the pool’s management. Getting rid of just one of the three full-time management positions would have made this year’s tax increase unnecessary.
In the meantime, the mayor is running for a third term after raising taxes two years in a row. He is being opposed by a longtime city council member whose term is wrapping up. Given this man’s voting record, it is unclear how he would be much different than the current mayor. Unless people have a good reason to switch, most of them won’t, although, I am personally in favor of limiting a mayor’s terms to two. A third opponent in the race is well known in the community as a very staunch libertarian conservative. His campaign signs include the slogan, “Living within our means.” That sounds nice, but this man frankly scares a lot of people.
Two city council seats are up for election and both are being vacated by the incumbents. Five people are vying for these two seats. I know absolutely nothing about two of these candidates. I know two others personally. I know the quality of their character, but I am less clear on their politics. I am more clear on the politics of the last fellow, but I get the feeling that he is mainly running as a voice of opposition rather than out of a desire to actually win, since he has done little campaigning.
The swimming pool and the issues that surround it are not formally on the ballot. But the pool will be in the back of the minds of many voters as they go to the polls. As both races require a primary election, early voting is currently available at the city council chambers on Tuesday through Friday this week and next, from 1-5pm each of these days. Or you can wait in line on primary election day, Sept. 15.