by nathan oster
Pool supporters went on the offensive this week, telling members of the Greybull Town Council on Monday that they appreciate their efforts to build an outdoor swimming pool and that the financing plan that is being proposed this time differs greatly from the ones that were rejected by voters in 2012 and 2016.
“What was voted down (in 2016) was the property tax and the fact that the school’s bonding capacity was being used to build a pool,” said Heather Sanford, a member of the pool committee. “That’s different than what you’re doing right now. What you are doing right now is building a legacy for our children and our community.”
Sanford was one of three people who spoke during the public forum of Monday night’s meeting. A full supporter of the council’s efforts, she was joined by Nancy Nelson, who also applauded the council for its work.
David Bottom, the third speaker, struck a more measured tone, saying that while he wants a pool, he worries that the majority of the council is sending a message to constituents that their votes don’t count if they proceed and that future councils may not place the same high priority on the pool if and when their budgets must be tightened.
Council members did not address the comments and none of the items on Monday’s agenda pertained to the swimming pool. Still, the comments from Sanford were the first from a member of the committee since the town’s former mayor, Bob Graham, voiced criticism of Mayor Myles Foley and Councilmen Marvin Hunt and Clay Collingwood for their dogged pursuit of the pool against the prevailing wishes of town voters. Graham made his comments in the public forum of the June meeting and in a letter to the editor of the Standard.
Sanford emphasized that the current proposal is nothing like either of the two that went before voters in that it will have no impact on school district property taxes. This time, the town is proposing to go it alone, using donations and in-kind contributions to get the pool built and general fund monies along with donations to pay for operation and maintenance moving forward.
Greybull voters have historically been split right down the middle on the swimming pool.
In the 2012 election, two different initiatives were on the ballot. The $5.2 million bond issue asked school district voters whether they’d support an increase in their property taxes to build an indoor swimming pool. It was defeated, with 53 percent (718 votes) opposing and 47 percent (628 votes) supporting. In Greybull, it failed 535-493.
A countywide sixth-cent tax proposal in that same election went down by an even greater margin, 67 to 33 percent. In Greybull, where it would have paid for the future operation and maintenance of the pool, there was a margin of nearly 200 votes, with 626 opposing and 430 supporting.
In the 2016 election, school district voters were asked whether they’d support an additional $19.95 in taxes on every $100,000 of property value. Also, whether the district should use 17 percent of its bonding capacity to build a $1.4 million outdoor pool. It, too, went down. District wide, the margin was 43 votes, with 675 voting in favor of the bond issue and 718 against. In Greybull, it fell short by two votes, with 532 voting in favor, 534 against. The margins of defeat were larger in Shell (142-116) and Emblem (37-23).
“I think it’s important to understand the size of the discrepancy between those who voted in support of the pool and those who voted against it (in 2016),” said Sanford, noting that it was very close and went down to the wire. “When people voted against it in the fall, that was school district wide and it was a property tax coming out of their pockets.
“When you looking at what you’re trying to do right now, I’m so thankful for your support so far. This is an allocation of town council funds to support a project that would benefit the community. It has to do with how you budget things and how you allocate money. When we apply for grants, it will help.”
Sanford reiterated that “this is a different issue than it was last fall — and it’s not beating a dead horse. We are trying to go a different route to build a pool that will benefit the children and adults in this community. If you build this pool, it will be a legacy, one that will live on far past the time you are on the council.”
Nelson hit many of the same notes in her presentation to the council, saying that she, too, is a member of the grassroots efforts to build the pool. Nelson said she grew up in Greybull, graduated from GHS in 1979 and returned here with her family in 2012. She teaches at GES and is a member of the grassroots effort.
She said the people behind the scenes have worked hard to raise money, line up pledges of money and in-kind contributions and identify possible federal and state funding sources for the pool project. “Our wish is to have the pool up and running in 2018,” she said. “If we can get a pool built for just what the council allocated last year and this year, it would be a feather in all of your caps.”
Bottom said he, too, would like a pool. “I’ve haven’t talked with anyone who is against the pool itself,” he said.
But where he and others struggle is in the process. “Is this really the precedent you want to set?” he said. “I’ve talked to people – not a lot, less than 10 probably — who have said, ‘If the people vote for something, then the town council or the majority of the town council decides to do what they want anyhow, regardless how the vote of the people went, then why did we vote in the first place?’ Whether right or wrong, that’s some of the perception out there.”
Bottom also wondered what would happen when the makeup of the council changes. “What if the next town council decides that in 2016, the property owners voted this down, so we are going to abide by how they voted and not keep funding it?”
Sanford addressed that question in her comments, saying she doesn’t believe any future council would “fill in the pool” after such a long quest to get it built in the first place.
“I want a pool,” ended Bottom. “I do. In a small community, a pool is good. The questions a lot of us are wrestling with are the process and procedure of funding it.”
Councilman Scott Mattis clarified one point in Sanford’s presentation, emphasizing that, “Even though we wouldn’t be raising taxes to pay for this, this is still taxpayer money. The town council, itself, doesn’t have money. It has taxpayer money.”
Other pool news
In the monthly pool report, Councilman Hunt reported that Greybull Needs a Pool is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that can take donations. A fund has been established at Big Horn Federal for anyone wishing to do so.
Hunt also announced that Adam Stockwell approached the pool committee with plans to do a pig roast and auction sometime this fall. Proceeds will benefit the pool committee. While Sept. 30 was mentioned as a possibility, the exact date and location have yet to be finalized.