Monroe wades into pool issue


Herald Writer

MONROE — Everyone thinks it’s a swimming idea. But nobody’s ready, yet, to take the plunge and say where it should go.

They’re talking about a swimming pool for Monroe residents.

And, although voters have turned down the idea several times at the ballot box because it would raise property taxes, a recent survey shows that a pool is ranked first on residents’ list of "wants."

That information has brought dueling pool proposals before the city council.

"I’d love to see this city have a pool," Mayor Bob Holman said. "But I am concerned that we do it in the right manner."

The first proposal came in September from officials of the Snohomish County YMCA, who asked the city to pay $30,000 to have the matter put on the ballot next spring.

In that scenario, if a bond measure passed to have the pool construction funded through a property tax increase, the YMCA would manage it with the Monroe School District and the East County Parks and Recreation District.

The second proposal came this week from Jim Blair, who owns the Valley Rally Fitness Club in Monroe. He told the council that he would like to enter into a public-private partnership to build a pool.

He said he wants the city to donate land or sell some to him at a "good price." He would then build the pool and manage it.

In that case, the pool would be a money-making venture for his fitness club, but it would also be available to nonmembers and to the school district.

City council member Marc Mechling said he sees advantages to Blair’s proposal.

"There would be no long-term financial risk to the city," he said. "And it wouldn’t take a tax increase to get the pool built.

"It could probably be up and operational within 18 months that way, by avoiding an election. But there are some questions about whether the city could give property away or sell it for less than market value when it involves a private for-profit business."

That’s the same concern Holman has.

"There’s really no justification for giving a profit-making company land unless it will service the taxpayers in some beneficial way down the road," he said. "We have to remember that whatever land the city has to give or sell — that land belongs to the people."

Holman said he’s not against the idea, however, and wants to see a pool built soon. He said he directed city staff to research the subject and bring information back to the council. It is expected to be a discussion topic at a work session within a month.

But most council members see an advantage to not having to go to voters and want to work on a public-private partnership.

Council members are worried that a bond issue wouldn’t pass. Similar issues failed in 1980 and 1992. A ballot measure by the school district in 1996 would have funded a pool and a stadium, but it was turned down.

While the park district is being asked to play a part in the pool discussions, its board has not committed mainly because it is having troubled getting voters to pass a maintenance and operations levy to keep the park and programs going. That measure comes before voters for a second time Tuesday, having failed in September.

Meanwhile, a committee in Monroe — working for several years on the city’s centennial, set for 2002 — has determined that it wants a pool to be the centennial "gift" to the city. That committee is working with the YMCA’s proposal.

It was through that group and the school district that residents were polled and replied that a pool is the No. 1 thing they want to see added to the city.

Holman said he is committed to seeing the council address the issue.

"I want to see a pool built," he said. "But it is a situation that we have to be very careful about. We can’t be mixing taxpayer dollars with a private for-profit business unless we have very sure grounds for doing so."

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