Fate of new pool rests with voters
Besides the questions of who will be the next mayor of Tonganoxie or who will fill the available City Council and school board seats, the big question being asked in the April 3 election is whether voters want to dive into a new sales tax to help fund a new swimming pool.
The proposed 3/4 of a percent sales tax will raise the estimated $2,785,000 needed over the next 10 years to pay for the design and construction of the pool and the renovation of Pleasant Street between Second and Third streets.
The new 8.05 percent tax rate would tie Tonganoxie with Bonner Springs and parts of De Soto in having the highest sales tax rate in Leavenworth County and one of the highest citywide tax rates in the state.
Some Tonganoxie residents have said they don't mind paying the extra money if it means being able to replace the city's more than 80-year-old pool, but others have said the higher sales tax rate could drive away people from spending their money in the city and that additional money should be spent where it is needed.
Lois Seelbinder is in favor of having an up-to-date pool in the city, but thinks it just isn't practical for the city to build a $3 million dollar facility.
"I think Tonganoxie needs to have a swimming pool; they need to have it for enjoyment and not all of these other superlatives added to it," said Seelbinder. "I think the pool needs repairs. I just feel like spending $2 million to $3 million on the pool for our city is way in excess for what should be spent."
Seelbinder said extra money should go to other much-needed repairs in the city.
"They could put it on the sidewalks around the city. Then there would be a lot of people who would do a lot more walking for their health. They are thinking about kids, but this would help the elderly if they had a place to walk," Seelbinder said.
But just plugging all of the leaks and adding a fresh new coat of paint may not be enough to keep the pool open this year.
"There are so many repairs that need to be done that it doesn't mean it's going to work," said Kathy Bard, assistant city administrator.
At the end of last year's pool season Kent Heskett, utility superintendent, took a tour of the pool to identify potential problems. The city estimated the cost of replacing the mechanical systems to be around $250,000 and the cost of repairing and resealing the tank to be around $100,000.
Bard said the city would try to make some repairs to the filters so the pool can be opened this year but added if the repairs failed, the pool would be closed until such time the city could fund the construction of a new pool.
Bard said the city had patched the filter system seven times in 2006.
The Vote Yes for the Pool Committee thinks it's about time Tonganoxie got a new pool.
"It's been around for 80 years it's probably seen its useful life," said John Morgan, member of the committee. "It's time for a new pool, one that can serve all members of the community."
Morgan said even if the pool got a major facelift, much of the existing structure would have to be torn down and rebuilt to make it safe enough for diving boards and to make the bathhouse and restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He doesn't have the exact numbers, but believes the costs of those renovations would still be high and wouldn't include extra features like slides that can attract more visitors.
"That's the kind of wow factor that brings the younger crowds out to the pool. To eliminate those kinds of features, it's bad to say it, but it would equate the pool to a big bathtub," said Morgan.
The committee expects that a new pool would increase attendance, which has dropped over the years.
Pool attendance in De Soto after its new facility was built increased to more than 500 patrons a day. The 9,000 patrons that used the Tonganoxie pool last year averaged around 100 patrons a day.
Bard said if the sales tax ballot failed in April, the city would look at other ways to fund construction of a new pool.
Bard said the city's share of the Leavenworth County sales tax was used for economic development and other capital projects and was not enough to fund the construction of a new pool facility.