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Paynesville Press - October 27, 2004

City, township to vote on aquatic park again

By Michael Jacobson

In addition to voting for candidates for political office, residents in the city of Paynesville and Paynes-ville Township will vote again on bonding for a proposed outdoor aquatic park on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

City residents will be asked to bond for $615,000 for pool construction while township residents will be asked to approve $375,000 in bonds for pool construction.

aquatic park Building the aquatic park would be a joint city-township venture, but township involvement would end at construction, and the city would accept sole responsibility for operating and maintaining the facility.

The current proposal, costing an estimated $990,000 for initial construction, is slightly smaller than the previous plan, which had an initial price tag of $1,250,000. This proposal was rejected by voters in April. In the city, the vote for bonding failed in April by a vote of 292-381 and in the township it failed 257-305.

In reworking the proposed aquatic park for this vote, the size of the pools was reduced slightly, the size of the bathhouse was reduced slightly, and amenities like a water slide were not included at the start, though they could be added later.

If approved by voters, construction of the aquatic park, which would be located on school property between the high school student parking lot and the armory, could begin in 2005 and the public swimming pool could open in 2006.

If either vote fails, insufficient financing would be available for the project.

Voting hours on Tuesday, Nov. 2, are the same as the general election, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. City residents vote at the Paynesville Area Center (1105 Main Street West), and township residents vote at the Paynesville Township Hall (28780 Koronis Drive).

Tax Impact
With smaller bonding amounts for both the city and township this time around, the potential tax impact for property owners is less than the previous proposal. But voters would still be voting to raise their taxes for 15 years to pay for the bonding.

The cost division between the city and township for the $990,000 in estimated construction costs was done on the basis of the population ratio - 62 percent for the city and 38 percent for the township. To the nearest $5,000 increment, that means the city would need to bond for $615,000 for the project and the township for $375,000.

Residential, commercial, and industrial properties would be subject to tax, though seasonal properties are exempt. Farmland is exempt, though ag homesteads and one acre of land would be taxed as residential.

The estimated property tax increase for every $100,000 of property in the city is $56.54. So the estimated yearly tax increase on a $100,000 property in the city is $56.54, on a $125,000 property is $70.68, on a $150,000 property is $84.84, and on a $200,000 property is $113.09.

The estimated property tax increase for every $100,000 of property in the township is $36.04. So the estimated yearly tax increase on a $100,000 property in the township is $36.04, on a $125,000 property is $45.05, on a $150,000 property is $54.06, and on a $200,000 property is $72.08.

These tax increases are still estimates because the exact interest for bonding will not be known until the bonds are actually sold.

Once again, the school district has reached an agreement with the city to allow the proposed aquatic park to be built on school property. The athletic field between the student parking lot at the high school and the armory was chosen as the site by the pool committee because of its access, visibility, and nearness to other recreation offerings.

A benefit of the site is that the pool would share a parking lot with the school. (To compensate the school for the land, the city agreed to build a replacement athletic field in the current ag plot; and to compensate for sharing the parking lot, the city will help the school with a quarter of the maintenance costs for the parking lot and access roads.)

Since the aquatic park would operate only in the summer, with a season from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day, when school is out, sharing a parking lot with the school is possible.

The pool committee researched building an indoor pool but found the costs too high. They were told by their consultants, USAquatics, that a city needs a population of 15,000 to support a pool. Or it needs to have a joint venture with the school to build an indoor pool. Estimated construction costs of an indoor pool would be two to three times higher, with operating costs also several times higher.

Instead, the pool committee recommends an aquatic park. Under the $990,000 proposal, a 5,100 sq. ft. pool would be built, to be divided into a lap area, diving well, and splash pool. The six-lane lap pool could be used for swimming lessons, open swimming, lap swimming, and adult aerobics. The diving well would be where swimmers would plunge when a water slide was later installed. And the splash area would have beach-style entry, getting gradually deeper with a maximum of depth of 30 inches. Play features - fountains, etc. - could be added to this part of the pool.

The proposed pool would have a maximum capacity of 290 people. The proposed aquatic park would also include a deck to watch swimmers, shade areas, a sand play area, and a bathhouse with concessions.

The main feature of the proposed aquatic park, according to its designer, is heated water, which extends the swimming season since the pool will not, like the lake, have to wait for warm summer temperatures to heat the water. As an outdoor facility, though, usership will still be affected by the weather.

Operating costs for the three-month season are estimated at $66,250 by USAquatics. The aquatic park was chosen by the pool committee because its play features should attract more return visits and keep patrons at the pool longer, thus producing concession sales.

But the bottom line will be most affected by attendance, which will depend on the weather. How popular the proposed aquatic park will be and how it will operate has been a major point of contention between pool supporters and pool critics. Pool supporters maintain that an outdoor aquatic park maximizes usage (with amenities and with a summer season) while minimizing operating expenses (avoiding the costs for an indoor facility and avoiding year-round operation costs). Critics of the pool proposal, on the other hand, have argued that the city will have to subsidize the pool operation and pay for ongoing maintenance, making the bonding just the initial cost of the project.

Though no rates have been set for the proposed pool, the committee has looked at a possible daily rate of $4 (with discounts for kids under four and for senior citizens) and yearly passes starting at $100. City and township residents are expected to receive discounts on yearly passes and priority in registering for swimming lessons.

There is no firm answer to how much the proposed pool will need to be subsidized, though both sides agree that some city help will be necessary.

If the $66,250 in operating costs is correct, then at $4 per person the aquatic park would need to average 207 paying customers per day over an 80-day season (losing ten days to bad weather) to break even; it would need to average 236 paying customers per day over a 70-day season (losing 20 days to bad weather) to break even; and it would need 276 paying customers per day over a 60-day season (losing 30 days to bad weather) to break even.

Or, on a pessimistic note, if the proposed aquatic park were to get $4 per person, over a 60-day season (meaning a month of swimming was lost to bad weather) with only 200 swimmers per day, the pool would generate $48,000 in revenue, meaning a subsidy of nearly $20,000 would be needed from the city if operating costs are $66,250.

If the city were to subsidize the pool at $20,000 per year, that would represent less than two percent of the city's yearly budget ($1.36 million in 2004).

Comparison of old vs. new proposals

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