2/27/2014 2:44:00 PM Public forum held before March 3 pool vote
by Ken Haggerty
About two dozen people turned out for the second of two city of Cannon Falls public forums on the March 3 referendum on whether or not to authorize up to $4.25 million in bonding for a new swimming pool/aquatics center.
A consultant from USAquatics, the firm hired by the city to draw up a proposal on a new pool in conjunction with a citizen committee, went through a presentation on how the proposal was arrived at.
He highlighted $200,000 in upcoming costs needed at the current pool for painting, parking lot repaving and other maintenance. He also addressed concerns about the pool's failures in meeting the American with Disabilities Act standards, including an uneven deck surface with "toe-stubbers' and other more significant issues. Concerns about failing concrete in the pool structure were also pointed out.
Citizens speaking at the forum raised concerns about the project. They included that the timing is poor with the hospital and library just being completed; that the plan submitted is too grandiose and fancy; that the local population does not support something so expansive; and that something for $2 or $3 million may be more appropriate.
The USAquatics consultant said the plan is similar to what they have designed and helped build in other comparable sized communities like Gaylord, Kasson, LaCrescent and Sleepy Eye.
Another concern raised by a citizen was that numbers presented about breaking-even or making some profit don't emphasize that is for operational costs only. The project will have a huge debt level that is not being considered in that "break-even" talk, he said.
One citizen supported the idea of the proposed two pool design and a larger out-of-the pool area, saying that the pool gets so crowded with kids on some days that it is tough for adults to enjoy it.
Projections that a new pool could increase annual revenue from current level around $38,000 to $113,000 were questioned by audience members. Suggestions were made to get hard revenue numbers from Red Wing and Hastings large pool facilities to get a good estimate of what Cannon Falls might be able to do.
The consultant said he had been contacted by Red Wing as they are seeking to increase revenues. He said he thought the Red Wing annual operating deficit was in the upper-$100,000 area.
Cannon Falls public works director Tom Bergeson said that city pools are generally a public service, not a revenue maker.
Concerns were raised in the audience about the city's current $20 million debt with unknown road needs possible as new development may come in on the south end of the city around the new highways and interchanges.
The use of a 90-day season from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the revenue projection was questioned due to the start of the season usually delayed until college kids return to lifeguard and younger kids finish school. Also, college kids usually leave before Labor Day.
The $840,000 estimated costs for consultant, engineering, design and construction management fees was a sore spot with some of those who spoke at the forum.
Discussion on what it would cost to just put a "band-aid" on the pool to keep it running in the current design was held. A number of $1.88 million was mentioned for getting the pool in good operating shape with a facility that is ADA compliant.
A citizen said the library and hospital projects are being done primarily with private philanthropy, so it is a good time for the city to take on a project to further enhance the community. He argued that the band-aid approach would still leave the city with a facility that could see a wall cave in at any time. He argued that design and other fees on the project will not be as high as estimated in the end and that bids may come in below estimated costs as many area contractors are hungry for work. He noted interest costs are at record lows.
One citizen wondered why this was a city-only tax and wondered if there was some way to tax all residents in the Cannon Falls school district.