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January 28, 2013

SMITH: Don’t rush to build an outdoor swimming pool

As a person of a decidedly communitarian bent, I’m usually one of “them people” who are first to call for public funding of projects and facilities that both benefit the public at large and whose costs can best be borne by the taxpayers as a whole. That is, usually I’m for it.

But I’m filled with dread at the thought that we’ll wake up some Tuesday or Friday morning and discover that the New Albany City Council and Mayor Jeff Gahan have put this community into debt to build an outdoor swimming pool.

The administration estimates that an outdoor water recreation facility will cost in the neighborhood of $9 million. Mayor Gahan has already asked the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County to divert a portion of their charitable giving to help foot the costs of a swimming pool.

It appears that the city wants to float a bond of about $20 million to build an outdoor pool facility, multiple fields for the local Little League affiliate and a soccer complex at the inner-city Binford Park.

But do the people of New Albany need, or even want, a new outdoor pool? As we blow through the second decade of the 21st Century, is building a swimming pool a legitimate and equitable use of tax money?

One might say that if the nearby casino wants to pay for it [an unlikely prospect, but who knows?], then the city should immediately accept the money and build an outdoor swimming pool. I contend that even if a benefactor were to cover some or all of the costs, New Albany would be better served to spend that money on something other than an outdoor pool.

Those who might say this is a premature voice in opposition just don’t know how New Albany government works. Rather than persuade us, the mayor is relying on a long-past and little-contested campaign as his mandate to build a pool to replace the Camille Wright facility. I hardly think the voters saw Mr. Gahan’s election campaign as a referendum on whether we should go $20 million in debt for recreation projects, or even as a vote to sever the city parks from the joint city-county system.

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