by nathan oster
The first two days of this week produced a number of new developments, but no official action from either the Greybull Town Council, which met Monday night at Town Hall, or the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees, which met Tuesday night at the central office.
Negotiations are ongoing between the town’s legal counsel, Kent Richens, and the school district’s attorney, Tracy Copenhaver, over the terms of a memorandum of agreement that clearly defines the role of both the town and the school in the election, as well as the construction, operation and maintenance of an outdoor swimming pool.
The town has taken the lead on the project to this point and is pitching a $1.34 million, 10-year bond issue to be placed on the ballot later this year — either during the August primary or the November general election.
According to figures provided by the town, the project includes a six-lane swimming pool measuring 45 feet by 75 feet, a diving board, concrete deck around the pool, ADA lift and a thermal blanket/reel system. Depth would transition from 3 feet 6 inches to 12 feet.
A bathhouse with restrooms, changing rooms and a mechanical room is also included.
The proposed financial arrangement would have the school district issuing the bonds and levy the mill levy to pay the debt service and for the town to own, operate and maintain the swimming pool. For every $100,000 of a home’s value, the estimated monthly impact of a $1.34 million, 10-year bond would be $1.02 — or about $12.22 per year.
One group that doesn’t need convincing is the Junior Girl Scouts from Troop 1330. Olivia Wright and Cloe Casey, who spoke for the troop, urged the council on Monday night to support the outdoor swimming pool, citing the need for swimming lessons to be taught locally and the potential health and recreational benefits among their reasons.
The preliminary results of the recent survey effort coordinated by the town confirmed that theirs is the majority opinion, at least at this point. The 13-question survey was mailed to 798 registered voter households in the school district, and within a week, 395 had been completed and returned.
George K. Baum and Company, which conducted the survey, stated that the 49.5 percent return rate far surpassed what they typically see in mail surveys. Usually the return rate is between 8 and 17 percent.
One of the key questions on the survey asked residents whether they “definitely” or “probably” would vote yes, or “definitely” or “positively” vote no, or if they just did not know and were undecided.
Sixty percent of the survey respondents said they would support it, with 41 percent in the “definite” category and 19 percent in the “probable” category. Thirty-four percent said they would vote no, with 8 percent in the “probably” category and 26 percent in the “definitely” category. Six percent were undecided.
In its draft report, George K. Baum and Company stated that they typically see a 10 percentage point difference between the total support level identified in a mail survey versus the actual level of support. Given that, the split between the “yes” and “no” votes might be closer to 50-to-44.
Breaking it down demographically, those in the 18 to 54 age group were far more likely to support the bond proposal than those 55 and older. Given that, the company suggested that the general election might be a better time to put it in front of voters than the primary election.
A more detailed breakdown of the survey results will appear in next week’s issue.
Turning to operation and maintenance questions, Councilman Marvin Hunt said he’d approached Thompson Pools, a pool design and construction company, to provide O&M numbers for the Rose Park Pool and the South Park Pool, both of which are in Billings.
Based upon those discussions, Hunt said he’s been led to believe the pool being proposed for Greybull would cost slightly less than $40,000 to operate and maintain, roughly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s just on the expense site. Anything taken in, either through daily admission fees or the sale of concessions, would offset that expense for the town.
Richins also spoke to the council about the MOA, which he’d discussed with both Barbara Bonds, an attorney with experience in the field, and Copenhaver, the school district’s counsel. Since the January meeting, the town prepared a draft MOA, presented it to Copenhaver, who presented it to the school district, which in turn offered edits and shipped it back to Richins for town input.
The framework of the MOA being discussed, Richens told the council Monday, is that the school district would use its financial ability to help with the pool, but that it would take no responsibility with respect to the pool. “Pretty much what it does is take all responsibility away from the school district,” said Richens.
Richins said the school district expressed interest in using the pool, possibly during the first month of the school year. Another topic of discussion, at both meetings, was a school district request that up to $100,000 be set aside up front for maintenance.
Richens and every member of the town council but one, Marquerite VanDyke, was present at Tuesday night’s meeting of the school board, which began with an hour-long public forum and proceeded directly into swimming pool discussion at the start of the regular meeting.
Copenhaver warned the school board that all issues must be resolved before signing the MOA, because once that happens, it’s a done deal that the bond issue is going to be put in front of voters.
“Sign it only when you’re ready to make that move,” he said.
Copenhaver said he is going to ensure that the MOA complies with the board’s wishes. He outlined it in a fashion similar to Richens, saying the district would only be agreeing to use its bonding capacity — the rest would essentially be up to the town.
Richens requested additional time to weave the input received late last week from Copenhaver, which he confirmed was a reflection of the board’s desires, into a new MOA through talks with Barbara Bonds.
Jamie Flitner, who chairs the school board, recommended that no action be taken on the MOA.
Trustee Cheri Edeler questioned what right the school board had to dictate how much the town earmark for reserves, since it would only be offering its bonding capacity and that the rest of the responsibilities would like with the town. Copenhaver responded that it’s first and foremost, a school district bond. And that the idea behind the reserve is to ensure the pool survives until, at the very least, the bond is retired in 10 years.
Trustee Steve Hoblit asked whether the lot next to the Herb Asp Community Center, where the pool would be built, has been cleared of ground contamination by the Department of Environmental Quality. The lot was formerly the home of Core Chevrolet. Marvin Hunt of the pool committee said it had been cleared to DEQ standards.
Hoblit also stated that if school district voters are asked to pay for the construction of the pool, they should also bear some responsibility for O&M. As now proposed, only town residents would be on the hook for those costs.
Councilman Clay Collingwood said it didn’t matter … that whether in town or out of town, it’s all one community and that “we stand together and do the best we can for each other.”