If you are not up to speed on the Worthington Outdoor Pool and SwimInc discussion, read a recent article here. Currently the SwimInc board has conceptual design studies and reports from their consultant. The new pool designs range from $10 million to $15 million.
I have been serving on the outdoor pool work group, and we recently gave a brief summary to council of what the city can do to support the pools.
It’s important to know the pools are on school property and are operated by SwimInc. To date, the city has financially supported the pool with episodic loans and contributions. When the city built the community center more than 20 years ago, the intent was to forego building an outdoor pool because SwimInc was already a great outdoor community pool.
The pool has been a great community resource for the past 70 years and provides individuals and families with a safe environment to engage in fun meaningful activities. In general, I believe pools are a community service. To that point, I believe there is value in the city supporting the outdoor pool financially in some way.
With a $10M to $15M price tag, some big questions remain. Below are some thoughts I have based on the numerous conversations and meetings about the pools.
Because the pool is on school land and is run by SwimInc, it is unclear what happens when new repairs occur and permanent fixtures are added to the pool. If SwimInc (or some other entity) pays for new equipment, it’s not as if they can sell the pool to a third party.
The school district included finances to pay for a new natatorium in their 2022 successful bond levy so the line of demarcation is more clear. Ownership of the outdoor pool would need to be detailed – possibly with a land survey and inventory of assets.
The outdoor pool has a summer season operation with an operating profit of approximately $100,000 annually. Though it seems like a lot, it is not enough to get a substantial loan or bond for capital expenses like a new pool. And since the pool is not on land they own, SwimInc cannot borrow against the land.
Joint Recreation District (JRD)
A possible option that has been discussed for years is a JRD, which is a completely separate government entity that would need to be approved and created by two or more existing government entities. For example, the most obvious JRD would be approved by the city and the school district. An alternative district could be created by the city and a different government like Sharon Township.
The benefit of having a JRD is the JRD itself could raise funds through a voted levy in the entire district. This would spread the tax burden to approximately 20,000 households as opposed to approximately 6,000 households in the city of Worthington.
Unfortunately, the school district has hesitated to enter into a JRD in the short term due to the possibility of a tax levy being proposed too closely to their next anticipated school levy request slated within the next two years.
$15M vs. Cost Savings
The only design concept that offers any additional revenue is the $15M concept, which provides a shelter house that could be rented out for events. However, even with this revenue, a ballpark net profit from the event space would bring in $50,000-$100,000/annual.
One of the arguments for the $15M concept is the cost savings gained from constructing everything at once vs. splitting construction into multi-year phases.
With some basic ballpark math, it would take 10 years to raise $1M. The new pool designs have a functional lifespan of 30 years. Even with the increased revenue, future costs for maintenance and new pool construction 40 years from now would require additional funds – likely from public sources.
Possibility for Tax Levy
I am working on a report to submit to council and the public to better understand actual numbers using today’s tax valuations. With current city surplus at $17 million, the city has some funds to financially support the pools but cannot entirely fund any of the design concepts without a voted tax levy or bonded debt, or both.
You may recall from my previous articles that I believe the property tax burden is ‘taxing people out’ of Worthington and I am not in favor of the city promoting a voted tax levy increase. We have some funds available in our surplus to fund a cost-contained improvement plan. We also have the ability to borrow money at a low rate, which can be baked into our future capital improvement debt service plan. Or we can establish a separate legacy fund specifically earmarked for outdoor pool debt.
The big question that remains is: what level of funding is council comfortable contributing without asking voters for a tax increase?
Request $2-5 million Option or Phased Plan
I have been requesting SwimInc to consider a phased improvement plan that starts with a smaller financial request. I would like to know what improvements they could make with $2-5 million and what impact that will have on the pool’s longevity.
I believe this is the next short-term step we can make to keep the pools from closing their doors. Stay tuned for more information, but I invite your feedback on how the city should handle this.
I believe the next best step is to obtain feedback from the community about what to do next. I am requesting the city conduct formal surveying of the public to get a better sense on desirability of maintaining the pool, upgrading it, or constructing an entirely new facility. And, I would like to know what comfort level people are interested in the city funding it vs. a tax increase. The public feedback should happen within the next couple months and I am eager for the results if council decides to move forward engaging the public.
Let me know what you think.