Town wants to see if pool idea floats with voters

$500,000 building loan question on May 6 ballot

Sykesville

April 04, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The town of Sykesville has added a little drama to its uncontested council election by asking voters to decide if they want a municipal swimming pool.

"Shall the town of Sykesville construct a municipal swimming pool using borrowed funds in the approximate amount of $500,000?" says the language that will appear on the May 6 ballot.

Pulling voters into the pool issue could spice the election up a bit, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who is not up for re-election this year. With three candidates running for three open seats on the Sykesville Town Council, turnout could reach record lows.

"The pool referendum could be the hot topic this election," said Herman. "It might just be the thing that gets people out to vote. If people want the pool, then we'll do it."

Membership fees and revenues from various pool amenities, such as the clubroom and snack bar, are expected to pay for the maintenance and operation costs and repay the loan. Should that revenue be insufficient, the money would come from the town's general fund or by increasing the property tax, according to the referendum.

About 1,900 registered voters could decide that $500,000, nearly 20 percent of the annual budget in this town of 4,500, is too hefty a price tag. The vote is an "advisory referendum," meaning town officials are not bound by its results.

"The pool committee really wanted to press this issue," said Matthew Candland, town manager. "So, we have it on the ballot to get a clear mandate. I think it will pass. But by what margin?"

Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is chairwoman of the pool committee - membership has dwindled from seven to two since it was formed seven years ago - is certain the town will be on solid financial footing.

"I know demand is out there and private pools in the area have waiting lists," Nichols said. "Membership fees should cover the costs of borrowing and operating, and even give us enough to make improvements in the future."

Two random telephone surveys, each of 200 households, showed 66 percent of those called favored a pool. Nichols is preparing to mail packets filled with information on size and cost of the proposed pool to every household in town. Plans call for building it on 3 acres in Cooper Park along Route 32.

About a third of Maryland's 157 towns operate pools, according to the Maryland Municipal League. Westminster inherited a pool, built more than 20 years ago by a developer. A community association failed to maintain the pool and turned it over to the city. The city makes a small profit, charging residents $180 per family for a seasonal pass. Sykesville would charge $350 per family.

"Sykesville is in a good situation by building from the ground up and not inheriting a beat-up pool," said Ron Schroers, Westminster director of recreation. "It will be a great recreational resource for the community."

Membership fees and daily admission offset costs and, "yes, there is the potential for profit," Schroers said.

"Pools are work, but if you are looking to provide well-rounded recreation, a pool is another thing you should have in your inventory," he said.

Taneytown also has kept its pool operation afloat with user fees, but has not cleared enough money for repairs. The town is looking for grant money to build a new bathhouse. Hampstead runs a small pool, once owned by a community association.

"From an administrative side, a pool is a tremendous amount of work," said Ken Decker, Hampstead town manager. "There is always winter damage, maintenance, staff to hire. I dread it every spring. It really becomes a hole in the ground into which you put money, not water."

As a town manager, Candland said he has mixed feelings about the project, but "as a resident, I would love it."

If voters approve the project, the pool could be open by summer of next year, Nichols said.

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