Drowning in taxes

Posted 8/4/23

Dear Editor:

What does it cost to build an aquatic facility? I hadn’t a clue what the cost should be. The information below is the subject of a NextDoor post that I have been asked to …

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Drowning in taxes


Dear Editor:

What does it cost to build an aquatic facility? I hadn’t a clue what the cost should be. The information below is the subject of a NextDoor post that I have been asked to prepare, so the public has more information.

Because the proposed project’s costs seemed way out of line, I decided to do a quick Google search. $38 million for the proposed lower end structures is a boatload of money, let alone the $58 million high end project. Debt service for the cheaper project (four percent interest for 30 years) would cost $181,000 per month. Then add about $60,000 for monthly maintenance. This would be a commitment of about $2.2 million each year, and after 30 years we will be looking at a repeat. I use four percent as a conservative estimate.

My first search landed at Athletic Business, a trade site. It had recently covered cities that had upgraded and replaced their pool “situations,” starting with a Missouri city of 21,000: Twice our population. It had recently built a 92,000 sq. ft. facility for $23 million, described as the home for two high school swim teams, two dive teams, a youth swim club, open swim and lap pool, cool-water and a warm-water pools, a zero-depth-entry splash play zone, with more than two acres of development for water use. It is gorgeous, and described as “a hub for practically all aquatic activity.” Okay so it’s Missouri, not the PNW.

The second city was Eugene, Oregon, with 175,000 residents. It started with three existing aquatic facilities, one of which was built in 1969, in need of replacement. Voters approved a huge ballot measure for all kinds of recreational facilities, $11 million of which was for the renovation of that 50-year-old facility. The outdoor portion was demolished, and replaced with at 25 by 25 yard pool for swim meets and water polo matches, a zero-depth-entry pool, water basketball equipment, a water slide, additional 25 yard swim lanes, water therapy programs, and “major sustainability enhancements.” And it’s another gorgeous facility: One fancy water facility for every 58,000 people.

The problems? Finding lifeguards, which the city doesn’t address. When I see support for an estimated $38-58 million facility I wonder what is going on. Offer a bunch of benefits to many small interest groups until you get a mass that might vote “yes,” each hoping for a small portion of the proposed project: Make them vocal, give incentives to show up at every public meeting and write letters to the editor and post on NextDoor? Pretty much.

My primary non-household exercise is walking. I stumble on uneven surfaces everywhere in PT: Few sidewalks, weeds in parkways two-feet-high with foxtails endangering my dog, many hedges and trees almost totally covering sidewalks we have, and yellow paint showing where the sidewalks are especially dangerous. And that doesn’t count avoiding deer and motorists. Roads and sidewalks are the biggest complaints on NextDoor. I try to stay in the street.

The city doesn’t have enough money to fix these problems: apples and oranges? Hardly: It’s money, no matter how much supporters pretend.

We are considering taxes, donations, matching funds, grants, etc. Don’t tell me that this has no impact on the city’s ability to repave even the worst roads. At least one member of our city council got elected in part by railing against the cost to the city of grants and matching fund projects leading to debt of $17 million (which by comparison now appears to be a paltry sum).

There’s no free money - somehow the grant money, matching funds, and low interest loans regularly seem to cost us a lot, irrespective of the source.

And don’t pretend that the estimates are accurate: I’ve spent too many decades, including nine years in PT, watching “anticipated budgets” for public projects to assume that such estimates are even remotely accurate. And the costs are already too high for a city of our size which still owes for loans for past projects. And from past history, we can be concerned that there won’t even be enough money in the project at the end to pay for the bathrooms.

So far, I’ve seen no justification for a budget-busting project even close to the proposals. There are many reasons for wanting a working facility, but not as proposed.

Or maybe the estimates are to soften us up so we will be excited if the city decides to try to build a $15 million facility we can’t afford. We don’t soften easily. Many of us vote in favor of tax increases and and bond issues, but enough is enough.

Very truly yours, 

Daniel Marks