News and Tribune

January 28, 2013

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

By RANDY SMITH
Local guest columnist

— 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.

And nothing says that the city council will do any more than the bare legal minimum before authorizing the issuance of municipal bonds to fund what may well be an obsolete project from day one.

Clarksville and Jeffersonville have outstanding outdoor aquatic centers. With the amount of money being proposed for a new pool in New Albany, the city could provide free admission at and free transportation to either of those facilities for every likely user of a new city pool — with no additional annual operating or capital costs, to boot.

A “spray park” along the riverfront or even multiple such parks scattered strategically around the city would be a better use of tax dollars. Let’s face it. In this day and age, an outdoor swimming pool is an albatross and I believe it’s a wasteful public expenditure.

It’s time to start a long public conversation about this to build a consensus on whether we need or even want a new outdoor pool in New Albany. Unless we have that, and unless people let their representatives know that they don’t want a new pool, my nightmare may become a costly reality. And for goodness sake, there's no need to rush this decision. I don't think a bond referendum would stand a chance of passing public muster, but a council that listens only to its own counsel might believe otherwise.

— Randy Smith is a New Albany resident who financially and politically supported the public funding of the YMCA and city indoor aquatic center.