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Paynesville Press - May 26, 2004

Proposed aquatic park could make November ballot

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

City and township voters may have another chance to vote on the proposed aquatic park.

During a special meeting last week, the ad hoc aquatic park committee, members of the Paynesville City Council, and members of the Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors showed interest in keeping the project alive and putting referendums on the ballot again at the general election in November.

While an informal consensus last week indicated that local officials and committee members - who have spent 18 months working on the aquatic park proposal - would like to have referendums again, the city council and township board would still need to approve having the referendums again this fall.

In April, city voters rejected borrowing $775,000 for the project by a vote of 292 to 381. Township voters rejected borrowing $475,000 for the project by a vote of 257 to 305.

Committee members and some city and township officials said last week that they believe the issue has a good chance of passing in November if it is marketed better. Before going to the polls in November, area residents need to be better informed than they were in April, said council member Dennis Zimmerman.

To gain more support for the proposal, the aquatic park committee should address the reasons the referendums failed this spring, officials agreed last week. They attributed the no votes to people holding out for an indoor pool (which is not an option because of cost), to people being taken aback by a last-minute mix-up regarding bonding costs, and to people thinking the city would end up paying more than estimated for building the aquatic park and for ongoing maintenance.

The referendums could pass at the general election in November because voter turnout would be stronger with the presidential election, said Mayor Jeff Thompson. The cost of putting another referendum on the November ballot would be minimal, Thompson added.

Changing the scope of the project was not an option for many of the committee members, including Lonnie Lien. According to Lien, the proposal is already bare bones, and she would not be willing to stay on the committee if it was scaled back.

The township did investigate alternate means of financing the project, including a levy, which unlike a bond referendum would tax owners of seasonal property. It also would save on bonding costs, but levying for the project is not a legal option, according to township supervisor Don Pietsch.

Another suggestion for the project last week was asking other neighboring townships for financial support, but this was deemed infeasible. Without scaling back the project or changing the financing options, officials and committee members agreed that the project would need to be marketed more aggressivly to be successful.

During the meeting, township resident Bob Meyer questioned whether the city and the township should spend tax money on the project at all. "Why should I have to pay for this pool for other people's kids?" asked Meyer, who opposes the aquatic park proposal.

Aquatic park committee member Cliff Rossler responded that an aquatic park could attract business to the area, which would benefit everyone, even those who don't use the facility. Getting the community to fully understand this will be the key to the aquatic park project's success, according to Rossler.

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