Pool hearing shows mix of opinions

by nathan oster

The first official public hearing on a proposed bond issue to build a new outdoor swimming pool produced comments that were similar in tone to those voiced more informally earlier this spring to members of the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees.

While fewer people attended and spoke at Tuesday’s night’s public hearing, the majority of them again said they supported the pool project and wanted the bond issue to be put in front of voters in the November general election.

The town and the school district have come to terms on a memorandum of agreement that outlines each entity’s responsibilities with respect to the bond issue, including the campaign and election, followed by the construction, operation and maintenance of the pool.

The cost of an outdoor pool similar in size to the old indoor pool is estimated at $1.4 million. It would go in the lot next to the Herb Asp Community Center.

To build the pool, the town wants to use some of the school district’s bonding capacity, which as of Tuesday night, sat at around $11.4 million. If approved by voters, the bond would be paid over a term of 10 years. After that, ownership would transfer to the town.

Under the terms of the MOA, the school district’s responsibilities begin and end with the use of its bonding capacity. All other expenses associated with the election, as well as operation and maintenance costs from day one moving forward, would be the responsibility of the town.

Tuesday’s public hearing was the first of two required to put the bond issue on the ballot.

Ten people spoke, with seven in support and three opposed.

The three dissenting voices — Bob Graham, Earl Dooley and Dewey Arquette — each provided different reasons for not supporting the bond issue. None said they were against Greybull having a pool.

Dooley said he doesn’t like the approach, saying that if the town cannot afford it on its own, it shouldn’t ask the school district to pay for it. He also cited concerns about the state and local economy. “The money’s going away,” he said. “Now isn’t the time to do a bond issue.”

Arquette, who lives in the Shell Valley, said it would be “un-neighborly” for him to support the pool project, citing the impact it would have on his neighbors in the Shell Valley. He said if it passes, he will be taking his money elsewhere.

Reading from a prepared statement, Graham said the school district’s bonding capacity is declining and that if he served on the school board, he’d be reluctant to sign off on an MOA until he sees concrete numbers from the town.

“I would need to see a business plan and operations and maintenance costs first,” he said. “We know how it would be built, but the other half of the equation isn’t there.”

Graham also questioned the town’s assertion that it can afford O&M on the pool moving forward, citing figures he received from the town clerks in Lusk and Sundance. Both communities have outdoor pools. Both run about $60,000 per year in O&M costs.

While the town might have the money to pay for it, Graham said it would impact its ability to complete other important projects for the foreseeable future.

Marvin Hunt, who serves on the pool committee and is a member of the Greybull Town Council, said the town always has and always will have important projects to complete. “It’s called running a city government,” he said. “Yes, these are economically hard times, but we have a community here, and we can either invest in our community or go down as a community.”

Hunt reiterated what he said at the first open forum on the pool — that it can be run for around $30,000. “The best number out there is our old pool,” he said. “In 2012, the last year it was run, payroll only for July and August was $12,950. We’re essentially building the same pool.”

Councilman Clay Collingwood echoed Hunt, adding that the rehabilitation of the levy is going to cost considerably less than originally thought. He, too, suggested that the town is going to have challenges 10 years from now, just like it does today. “We will figure out a way,” he said. “It’s why the community elects its leaders, to figure out the best way forward.”

Other other “pro” voices made heartfelt appeals for a community pool.

Jeff Grant said he doesn’t like paying taxes, but that those that support local needs like roads and hospitals and senior centers are far more palatable than those spent elsewhere, like in Washington, D.C. He suggested that the pool would be an appropriate use of the school’s bonding capacity.

Marian VanGrinsven urged school board members not to think of it as a school issue or a town issue, but rather as a community issue. She added, “We all benefit from a pool. It’s a must. We have too many kids in this community to not invest in them.”

Jeff Hunt, a teacher at GES, spoke to the board as a community member. He said he has an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. He wants a pool to be built in town because there aren’t enough things for kids to do here. In the summer, “What else are they going to ask me to do in this town?” He commended those working to make the pool a reality and said ultimately, “It isn’t what’s best for you or the person sitting next to you, but rather what’s best for the whole community.”

Hunt urged the school board members to sign the MOA and send the issue to voters.

Timmy Anderson urged cooperation between the two entities, saying it’s how things get done.

Heather Sanford spoke as a parent of three children. She said she supported the indoor pool, was very disappointed when it was shot down by voters, and that she’s going to support the outdoor pool, too.

Like Hunt, Sanford urged people to think in terms of what’s best the community.

She, too, wants the voters to decide the matter.

Jamie Flitner, who chairs the school board, suggested the town make an attempt to better educate local residents about how it intends to pay for the pool’s operation and maintenance costs.

Both she and Selena Brown, another member of the school board, expressed reservations about committing any of the school district’s bonding capacity to the pool when school districts across the state are increasingly finding themselves on their own when it comes to paying for their building projects due to the downturn in the energy industry.