Proposed pool district awash with problems

The financial crunch we’ve all felt for the last several years continues to inflict pain on Sweet Home.

One of the more glaring cuts forced by declining tax revenues at the state level has been the Sweet Home swimming pool, which has been funded by the school district for 60 years.

That ended last year when the school board decided it could no longer afford the approximately $250,000 price tag to keep the pool open. Since then, thanks to donations by Safeway, the Siletz Tribe, various individuals and some city funding, the pool has stayed open for use by local swimmers and water polo players.

The pool has been a central part of Sweet Home for more than half a century. Completed in the summer of 1952, it was built with $29,000 raised by the Frontier Days Festival, the forerunner to today’s Sportsman’s Holiday. Frontier Days was founded for the explicit purpose of raising money to build a pool. Longtime residents say the movement was sparked by the number of children who were unable to swim and who drowned – or came too close to drowning – in the river in those days.

Now that the school district is out of the picture, those who support the operation of a swimming pool in Sweet Home have to find a way to fund it.

The two most most obviously viable options are to create a special district with a permanent tax rate or a local option levy. See our report starting on page 1 for the specifics, which are, admittedly, almost mind-numbing to anyone who doesn’t enjoy civic math. The bottom line on both the option levy and the district is that they will create problems for an already-strapped community.

The main obstacle is “compression,” the result of state law which crimps funding for police and other districts, such as the library, when there are too many districts and not enough property values.

The specific problem posed by the proposed aquatics district is that it will almost certainly mean a reduction of staffing for the police department due to compression. The city is already going to arbitration with its police employees and we are already looking at the possibility of losing two positions if the union prevails. City officials says the impact of a new pool district would likely result in the loss of one more employee from the Police Department.

Public safety is the fundamental responsibility of government – above and beyond anything else. Cutting police staff does not contribute to public safety. That’s what makes these options so difficult.

There is no question a pool is a valuable asset to our community – almost a necessity. The reason why it was built in the first place cannot be discounted.

Nearly all children attending school in Sweet Home have gotten at least rudimentary swimming instruction and how many drownings have we had among local children in recent years? None. The pool clearly is an important contributer to public safety, particularly with all the water available to the local population in Sweet Home.

Also, the pool has helped create identity for Sweet Home. The boys swimming team has won two state championships in the last four years and the girls won their first state trophy last year. Our community is recognized throughout the state for swimming excellence.

If the choice comes down to cops or a pool, though, it is going to be a difficult one, even for those of us who recognize the pool’s value and who use it frequently.

Creation of a tax district poses severe problems for the community, but Sweet Home, historically, has not been one to lie down in the face of a challenge. We suggest another path: private funding. If endowment dollars could be raised to create a financial base for the pool, that would be the best solution of all. It would keep government funding out of the operation.

Recall that Frontier Days, an ambitious community festival, was created to establish a pool. If the right people got involved, why couldn’t its successor, Sportman’s Holiday, be beefed up to generate some income and help create that base?

Another option would be an endowment created by donations.What better public legacy could some generous donor leave the community than the pool, which preserves lives by giving children a place to learn to swim and recreate safely, and provides healthy winter exercise for youths and adults who participate in lap and competitive swimming, as well as general recreation.

If one or more substantial donations were made, enough to create a workable endowment, the pool could – should – be named after that donor or family: the “(insert name here) Memorial Pool.”

The situation is difficult but Sweet Home has proven its ability to meet such challenges in the past. It’s time to get innovative and find answers for this dilemma that really work.