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Traverse City Considering Pool Millage

County Will Consider Pool Millage

May 27, 2015
County Will Consider Pool Millage

Do Grand Traverse County residents still want a public swimming pool?

That’s the question commissioners will discuss tonight (Wednesday), which could eventually lead to a ballot proposal. Chairwoman Christine Maxbauer tells The Ticker she wants to ask fellow board members whether they’d support a millage request for the Easling Pool at the county-owned Civic Center.

“Before the Parks and Recreation board goes through all the work (to study a millage proposal), I want to know if the county board is willing to put the question on the ballot,” says Maxbauer. “I would like to ask Grand Traverse County residents: Is this a service you want the county to continue to provide?”

The Easling Pool – which has faced escalating maintenance and utility costs and declining revenues over the last decade – has been a recurring target for possible funding cuts and/or closure in annual county budget discussions. The county’s 2015 budget shows a loss of roughly $76,000 at the pool, though Maxbauer notes that when monthly utilities, maintenance repairs and labor are factored in, the facility has “historically lost between $200,000 and $300,000 a year.”

“The pool was built in 1970…and we’ve got equipment in there that when you need to replace parts, you literally have to go on eBay to find them,” says Maxbauer. “We have an HVAC system…where during the winter, they prop open the exit door, suck cold air over the warm water and then up through a vent in the ceiling with a fan on it. That’s how they circulate air. The equipment has not been kept up.”

Further compounding issues is that the Easling Pool is no longer the only indoor aquatics option for locals. With the opening of the new Grand Traverse Bay YMCA in 2014 – which features an eight-lane competition pool, deep-end diving well and training pool – Maxbauer says swimmers have been “voting with their feet and their dollars” in support of the more modern facility.

“As memberships are terminating at Easling, (users) are moving to the Y,” she says, citing groups like the Traverse City Breakers Swim Club and Special Olympics that have switched facilities in the last year. “So I think it’s a fair question to ask the community: Do you want to keep this pool?”

A 1997 Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation millage request – which included a proposed $9.4 million recreation center with new swimming facilities – was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls by a more than 3-1 margin. This time around, Maxbauer says she’d like the county to request a modest mill increase focused exclusively on the Easling Pool.

“I’m not going to ask to include Howe Arena or a recreation center or a parking lot,” she says. “Voters need to have a clear understanding of what they’re voting for. But the fact is…we cannot continue to bleed red ink at Easling Pool unless we involve voters in that discussion.”

The discussion foreshadows the types of funding priorities county commissioners will seek public input on as part of the board’s new results-based budgeting process. Explains Maxbauer: “On the horizon, we face an $8 million annual payment toward our unfunded pension liability. That’s 20 percent of our general fund budget. We have to focus on what we’re going to keep, and what is valuable to the community. Do you want to keep 3.5 road patrol deputies, or do you want a swimming pool?”

Based on the county’s debt and those type of looming prioritization decisons, the chairwoman says, “if the pool is going to remain open…I believe this is the only way it’s going to happen.”

Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 10:46 AM by Jon Becker

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