Regrettably, good things in life cost money

Nobody wants more taxes, least of all me.

But few things come free in life and sometimes, if we want benefits we can’t afford to pay for individually, we have to pay for them collectively. That includes services such as water, sewer, public safety, a library, parks – and a swimming pool.

Although I have a couple of family members who have been competitive swimmers in high school and one who is a lifeguard and swim teacher, I personally am not an aquatics buff and my family doesn’t spend a lot of time at the pool. I vastly prefer running and biking over swimming, though I once managed to gut my way through half a mile of torture in a swimming pool during a triathlon. I don’t love the pool, but some day, when my knees can’t take the pounding on the pavement, I’ll probably have to learn to.

I say that because a swimming pool can have value to me as a resident, even if I don’t use it personally.

In our day, when much of our society seems to be increasingly fixated on what’s good for us, to the exclusion of everyone else’s interests, it’s harder to see those benefits.

The library is a good example of how such a publicly funded institution can contribute to the community. Though those of us who don’t use the public library very much may chafe at being charged for it when we pay our taxes, we benefit from the services it provides our community.

In this day of computer games and satellite TV – and the Internet, it’s easy to forget the value to society that reading provides – access to reliable information, something our forefathers, who founded a nation after throwing off the tyranny of a king who didn’t do them good, clearly understood.

Many of the originators of our nation realized the necessity of an educated citizenry and saw how access to literature furthered that end. Prominent capitalist Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, helped thousands of communities establish public libraries because he personally benefited from access to books as a youngster.

It’s easy to forget that now, surrounded as we are by smart phones and computers, and by the Internet, from which information is a button away. But libraries are a more stable form of that information, because books are a lot more trustworthy, as a rule, than Internet sites. In a book you can see who wrote it, who published it and what year it was published. Good to know and something that isn’t clear on most Internet pages.

If you believe that a free market-based society is the healthiest for its citizens, as I do – as long as that capitalism is tempered by a little graciousness and compassion – then you see the need for equal access to information so people can participate effectively in that economy. Libraries provide that opportunity.

Similar principles hold true, for community swimming pools. I’m guessing that very few people under age 50, who grew up in Sweet Home, have not been in the local pool, because that was one of the main reasons why it was built in the 1950s – to provide a facility in which local residents could be taught to swim.

It’s not just the rich kids, whose parents can afford the time and money to take them to Lebanon or Albany to learn to swim, who master that skill. Our local pool provides every school kid in Sweet Home the chance to learn to swim well enough to save themselves if they get too far out in the water in one of the local rivers or lakes.

The pool also provides the community with other benefits. One is positive notoriety. We’ve had some great swimmers come out of Sweet Home (yours truly excluded) and the high school is known for its strength in that area. It’s a positive reputation amid some of the more negative stuff – deserved or not – for which Sweet Home is known.

Economically, that existence of a year-round pool and that reputation can help us as we try to attract investment – either financial or human – in or community.

It’s a well-known fact that when companies or investors seek areas to locate in, they look for more than just land or a labor force. They want to see planning and development – evidence that the community is not stagnating, that’s it’s moving ahead – and they look for quality of life.

Quality of life, especially in a small, isolated rural community like Sweet Home, includes recreation and, in our case, the opportunities provided by a swimming pool.

Yes, it is not pleasant to have to pay anywhere from about $20 a year (for lower-valued properties) to upwards of $100 annually (for higher-value parcels) to keep our pool open. The good news is that funding the pool with this levy won’t impact the Police Department budget at all (contrary to what was claimed on one Facebook post that showed up a couple of weeks ago).

Though none of us really like the idea, think what life would be like without a pool.

We’d lose those swimming lessons and we’d be right back where folks were in the 1940s, when kids drowned almost every summer. The only youngster who’s drowned in our area in recent years was a visitor.

We’d lose the open swim evenings for family recreation, the lap swims, the therapy and exercise sessions for elderly and disabled folks, the Swim Club and perennial state champion high school swimmers who represent our community in a positive way.

We’d lose that extra icing on the cake for folks who might be thinking of investing in our community – which would provide jobs and get some money flowing through our local economy.

Some have voiced concerns about whether the money is being spent wisely. It will be if they keep asking those questions, because scrutiny will be put on how it’s being spent. These things tend to work themselves out when the public gets interested – and it should be.

What we have to decide now is the question before us: Should we pay to keep the pool open?

Yes, it can be hard to see value in yet another tax. Yes, I’m completely committed to seeing our local government operate as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Yes, I’d rather not be advocating for this one, but I’m not calling the shots that have led us to this pass, economically.

I believe the benefits are enough to warrant that cost, at least for two years.