Tuesday night’s study session revealed an interesting divergence of opinion on what the parcel tax should be. Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk, backed by members from the aquatic and swimming community, strongly pushed to include a $10 million 50-meter pool complex in the potential fall parcel tax.
However, Brett Lee was adamantly against funding the pool now, and the rest of the council saw roads as the first and foremost priority.
“I do believe that the funding of a pool is critical,” Dan Wolk would argue. “I think it’s clear that, just as with our roads, the longer we wait on that the greater our cost becomes in terms of our band aid measures that we’ll have to put on the pools.”
“It’s clear that we’re going to have to invest $7 million on these to refurbish civic and community (pool),” he added. “There’s a strong argument to make… that we really need to re-invest in our parks facilities and specifically our community pool. I think that’s really critical to the heart of this community as much as anything. I think this is a community that is willing to support that – even at a two-thirds level.”
Councilmember Brett Lee suggested that, while the city is looking at a November revenue measure, he might be interested in addressing the pool in the spring. He suggested that would give them time to make the case to the broader community about the benefits of the pool.
He would argue, “It’s nice to split the need to have versus nice to have. Road and sidewalk – need to have. Swimming pool upgraded facility – that’s a nice to have.”
Dan Wolk would strongly differ.
“Obviously the roads and bike (paths) and sidewalks are need to have items,” the Mayor Pro Tem stated. “I guess I just don’t see our pools as sort of these niceties that we have in our community. I see them as critical infrastructure. I’m just trying to imagine a community that lacks a civic pool and a community pool.”
The response to this debate on the Vanguard has been overwhelmingly against the idea of putting the pools in with the roads. The problem is that, with the city in fiscal crisis, the city has to prioritize and distinguish critical projects from expensive luxuries.
From a policy standpoint, it is difficult amid concerns with crumbling parks infrastructure and still unassessed building infrastructure, to put money into pools.
The idea that a $10 million capital project is going to pay for itself in any short-term horizon defies logic. The reason the city closed the Community Pool was not just the repair needs but the inability to pay for basic maintenance costs.
There are political calculations here, as well. The city recognizes it needs to perform a heavy lift to get the parcel tax from the 58% approval level of the Measure O sales tax in June to the two-thirds threshold.
As much as Jose Granda fundamentally does not understand the city’s finances, he is spot on when he notes that it will be difficult for the city to increase the performance of the sales tax passage from June.
From Dan Wolk’s thinking, including the pool brings in a new base of support for the parcel tax. You have the 500 people in the aquatics community – the parents and other participants in recreational swimming. With all of that you not only have a voting base of support but a group of people with a vested interest in getting out the vote.
But there is a strong downside to that the analysis. The presence of the pool in the list of projects on a parcel tax will undermine the city’s strongest argument that this is an emergency measure to deal with the critical needs of roads.
Bob Dunning, Jose Granda and many of the commenters who posted on yesterday’s article, will be able to argue that the presence of the pool on the parcel tax means that this is just a wish list. That notion was amplified yesterday by the frequent question as to why there was an extensive wish list of luxury rather than essential needs included.
The answer is that the city wanted a sort of complete assessment of needs, even if it ends up voting down most of them.
So, the inclusion of the pools is a double-edge sword – you may expand the volunteer base and the constituency by including pools now, but I think the downside risk is too great.
In addition to giving the critics an issue to absolutely hammer the city on week after week, it also necessarily increases the costs.
Between the analysis we had on Tuesday about the threshold for road repair projects in a given frame of time, Mark Northcross’ discussion about useful life of the roads, and the various funding mechanisms, it is clear that it will be very difficult to get enough money in so that the city can properly bond the road repairs and improve the road conditions from 57 PCI to 63 PCI over a 20-year period.
We have a strong and compelling argument.
We don’t often agree with DCEA President Dave Owen, but everyone who watched the meeting has said that he really nailed it.
“Pin it to the pavement,” he stated. “All your dream list, that’s real nice, but it will die on the vine when you take it to the vote. The pavement is basic infrastructure… people use it every day.”
“Unless you’re walking around in a daze, you know that your streets and sidewalks, in many areas in town, suck. That’s just how it is,” he added in colorful language we don’t often hear at council meetings, but the point resonates with the public.
It is an easy sell – the pavement, as Bob Clarke noted, is on the verge of deteriorating into poor condition and only if we step up now will we avoid far worse deferred maintenance costs.
No need to water down the argument. No need to overly complicate it. This is a message that can sell and everyone can get.
If you add pools to the mix, you lose that argument and then it becomes just another issue that the city is not being honest with the public on. We have enough of that to worry about. Keep this one simple and clean.
—David M. Greenwald reporting