by nathan oster
The proposed sixth-cent, special purpose tax has drawn the most interest and discussion, but it’s only one of two tax questions facing voters in Big Horn County School District No. 3 in Tuesday’s general election.
Voters will also be asked whether they support a $5.2 million, school district-sponsored bond question that would pay for the construction of a new swimming pool as well as equipment and furnishings for that facility.
The sample ballot published in last week’s issue contains the precise wording of the question — and shows how voters will be able to vote “for the bonds” or “against the bonds” when they step into the voting booth on Nov. 6.
A closer look at the issue and what’s what stake — both for the community and taxpayers:
The current pool was built four decades ago and has exceeded its anticipated life expectancy, in large part due to the efforts of the district’s maintenance team. In recent years, it has shown its age.
Concerns about the structural integrity of the pool and the safety of users forced then Supt. Roger Clark to shut it down in the spring of 2010. After a big community-wide effort, the pool re-opened in November 2010.
It has remained open ever since, although as the Power of the Penny PAC notes, four decades of chlorine, water, humidity and heat have taken their toll on the facility. The pool continues to leak from cracks that have developed over the years and can no longer be repaired.
The PAC also notes that the pool’s deck, ceiling and windows are deteriorating and that it is becoming increasingly expensive to operate and maintain because of its age and inefficiencies.
Jim Bauer, of the school district’s architectural firm Bauer Group Architects, provided an overview of the proposed facility during a recent meeting of the pool subcommittee.
The pool was designed with a 40-year lifespan and as “community friendly” as possible, with an emphasis on factors that minimized the O&M costs over the lifespan of the pool.
The pool committee evaluated a number of sites before eventually settling on the one located on school property, between the Greybull Elementary School playground and the tennis courts. Bauer said the site stood out because of its close proximity to not only the school and the tennis courts but also the city park and a small baseball/soccer field directly behind the elementary school.
Trees that are currently growing on the site would be preserved under the concept plan presented last week by Bauer. However, there would need to be some site modifications, including realignment of some sidewalks and the development of an additional parking lot between the facility and the tennis courts.
Bauer said the front door of the facility would face north and be accessible from the tennis court side. The pool itself would be on the south half of the facility, with the thought being that it would get the most available light in that position.
The concept plan included a six-lane pool, just like the existing pool, as well as a “zero entry area” where seniors and small children would be able to enter the pool. The current pool has no zero-entry area.
Bauer said the concept plan also includes provisions for a future slide, wading area and patio on the south end of the facility. The business end of the pool on the northern half of the facility would include change rooms, showers, toilets, and check-in, office and laundry areas.
Bauer said the proposed pool would seat 40-45 spectators and would have around its outside perimeter storage areas for large items as well as for some of the other items needed around the pool.
The concept plan that Bauer presented last week was for a facility of 14,320 square feet. The existing pool is 10,440.
The pool would be constructed with energy efficiency in mind, Bauer said, noting that there would be windows around its perimeter as well as translucent panels to the east, south and west to maximize natural light around the year. Those translucent panels are available with a factor of R-22, as opposed to the older ones which are R-7 and R-8, he said.
With the bond issue set at $5.2 million, and 3 percent of that required to go to O&M, and the school district set to receive at least $400,000 from the sixth-cent tax, there would be around $5.6 million to complete the project, Bauer said.
Cost to taxpayers
So what would construction of the new pool cost district taxpayers?
Mary Keating Scott, senior vice president of George K. Baum and Company, said the owner of a home with market value of $100,000 would pay an extra $2.30 per month, or $27.55 annually. For the owner of a $200,000 home, it would come to $4.60 per month, $55.10 annually.
According to Power of the Penny PAC campaign literature, the bond measure would pay 93 percent of the cost of the swimming pool. The other 7 percent, or about $400,000, would be generated by the sixth-cent tax put forward by the county’s nine municipalities.
The PAC noted that the use of the bond issue and one-cent tax is the same approach that was used to build a new pool in Worland.
“The new community swimming pool would allow for water safety/education/therapy to continue to be provided to hundreds of children and adults each year,” according to Power of the Penny.
“Convenient open-swim hours would be available to the entire community.”
Sara Schlattmann said the bond issue is crucial — but not to the degree of the sixth-cent proposal.
If Big Horn County voters reject the sixth-cent proposal, the bond issue is “dead in the water” even if it is approved by voters because there would be no funding source for the operation and maintenance of the new pool.
However, if it goes the other way, and the bond issue is defeated but the sixth-cent proposal is approved, the school district would have the option of using the sixth-cent revenue for upgrades to the existing pool and for future O&M costs, according to Schlattmann.
She hopes, however, that both win voter approval.
“Eventually that pool will have to close down, for mechanical or structural reasons,” she said.
The Greybull Recreation District is currently managing pool operations under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding with the town and the school district, both of which are contributing $30,000 toward O&M costs. That MOU, however, states that the pool is to be shut down and the contributions of both the town and school district returned in the event of a major equipment breakdown.
Schlattmann conceded that the PAC has no clear vision what would happen at the end of the 20-year period, after all of the revenue generated by the sixth-cent tax is expended. “A new set of voters is going to have to decide that,” she said. “To us, 20 years is long-term planning.
“The pool should last longer than that … at that time, we as a community will have to make another decision.”