Levy asks voters to buoy pool

Sean C. Morgan

School District 55 is asking voters to approve a local option levy to pay for the operational costs of the swimming pool in the upcoming May 15 election.

Local ballots are scheduled to be mailed on April 27.

The proposed levy is 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for two years.

The levy would raise an estimated $90,000 in 2012-13 and $90,900 in 2013-14.

The district and an aquatics committee were exploring the option of forming an aquatics district, but based on the impact to local option levies that fund the library and city and county law enforcement prompted the committee and district to look for a local option levy instead.

A local option levy imposed by the School District will not impact general government services, such as the library and law enforcement.

Instead, as the only local option levy among education districts in the Sweet Home area, it will be the first levy affected by property tax compression. Most revenue generation from the levy will be derived from properties that are not under compression.

Compression is levied taxes that are reduced based on property tax limitations. The maximum combined tax rate for education districts is $5 per $1,000 of real market valuation. Any property already in compression with education districts will not see an increase in taxes directly from the local option levy, although an increase in real market valuation of a compressed property will result in an increase.

“From our perspective, it’s just keeping the pool open,” said Bruce Davis, chairman of the aquatics committee. “That’s all the levy is designed to do.”

It will pay for water, heat, electricity, chemicals and an aquatics director, Davis said. Anything beyond that will need to be paid for through programming.

The pool is operating on minimal funding, through donations, some district funds and some city funds. Funding has been reduced in the past two years as part of the district’s effort to cut costs in the face of declining revenues.

But the pool is important to the community, Davis said. It was occupied all day by students when it was fully funded. Seniors use it for therapy and exercise. It provides swim lessons in a community surrounded by water. It also has been and is home to successful swimming competitors.

“I grew up in that pool,” Davis said. “I took swim lessons there as a kid.”

Davis, who wound up earning a scholarship to swim at NCAA Division I-level University of Kansas, learned to swim competitively in the local pool, and his children are learning the same, he said.

More than that, it provides a chance to teach children how to swim, protecting them in local lakes and rivers.

Closing it “seems like we’re setting ourselves up for tragedy,” Davis said.

Many seniors cannot physically walk and exercise, he said. The pool gives them a place to go where they can get exercise, and it serves seniors almost every night. They use it for therapy, and it has helped make and keep its senior users healthy.

“The people that came and talked at the first board meeting said that the pool has saved their lives,” he said.

Competition is fun, he said, but for others, the pool is much more than that.

It’s also been a factor in the decisions of some people to move to Sweet Home, Davis said.