While many communities no longer have publicly funded pools because of the high cost of maintenance and liability, the town of Canton is committed to keeping its pool open and in good condition.
The leaky pool has been patched up here and there for many years to keep it operational but it came to a point where the town had to decide whether to replace it or shut it down. The current town board has made it a top priority to replace the pool and plans are under way to get it done.
With a team of engineers contracted to do the design work, the town is ready to invest about $2.2 million into replacing the pool and adding new features to the recreation park.
Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss made a presentation to the board of aldermen and the town’s recreation advisory commission last week outlining the proposal, which could be completed before the summer of 2017 if all goes accordingly.
What’s the plan?
The bulk of the project includes renovating the current pool so that it could be used as a six-lane lap pool, which is estimated to cost about $1.4 million. Additional improvements include adding new pool facilities, pavilions, cornhole courts, disc golf equipment, fitness equipment and shuffleboard courts. The square footage and capacity will be about the same as it has always been so that the new pool can be placed in the same location.
Hendler-Voss said the town would also need to complete some ancillary projects before construction can begin, including $67,000 worth of sewer upgrades.
While Hendler-Voss believes the project can be completed without raising taxes next year, he said the town may need to get creative to come up with additional revenue. Hopefully the new pool will mean more users and more revenue. He said the town could create another $10,000 in revenue just by increasing the pool entry price from $3 to $4 while still offering a better price than other public pools in Haywood County.
“Come budget season we need to be open to places we can find money,” he told the board. “And we also need to be open to realistic options for creating new revenue.”
Based on recommendations from the recreation commission, Hendler-Voss said the project funding could come from multiple sources — town coffers, private donations, sponsorships and grant money.
Hendler-Voss’ proposal recommends financing 46 percent of the project while 22 percent would come from the town’s fund balance and 32 percent would come from donations and grants. The $67,000 needed for sewer upgrade would come out of the water and sewer fund.
Can we afford it?
Hendler-Voss said $970,000 of the project could be financed through a USDA loan with a 3.1 interest rate. With a 40-year loan, the town would make annual payments of $43,000 — an amount Hendler-Voss believes the town can absorb in the current budget.
The town’s debt service on things like fire trucks, patrol cars and equipment is only about 3 percent of its general operating budget, which should give the town a good shot at getting approved for the USDA loan.
“That’s pretty good and it will look good to the USDA that we’re not an organization that is debt hungry — we’ve been very fiscally conservative,” Hendler-Voss said. “The time to borrow is now — if we qualify for the loan and the board approves it.”
Jake Robinson, a member of the recreation commission and the CEO of Champion Credit Union, said a fixed 3.1-percent interest rate for a 40-year loan was an unbelievable deal.
The proposal would mean Canton would need to take $475,000 from its reserve fund to contribute to the project. Towns are required to keep at least 8 percent of their total operating costs in a reserve fund in case of emergencies, but Canton has used portions from the reserve for the last several years to balance its budget without raising taxes. While using reserves to balance the budget is not an ideal situation, Hendler-Voss said the town keeps well over the required 8 percent in the fund.
The fund contained $2.8 million last year before the town allocated $316,000 to balance the budget. The town then used another $180,000 from the reserves to pay the Camp Hope lawsuit settlement and is looking to take $475,000 out for the pool project. Hendler-Voss is confident that the town can replace a lot of that spending in the next year.
“We were almost $500,000 under budget though for fiscal 2015 so we’re hoping we’ll return that allocation to the fund balance plus another $180,000 to return to the fund for Camp Hope,” he said. “We have 54 percent of our operating expenses in fund balance — the state requires 8 percent. We’re in pretty good financial standing right now.”
Grants in the pipeline
Hendler-Voss said he was very conservative when it came down to budgeting for donations and grant funding.
The engineering team hired to design the pool also will be assisting the town with applying for a PARTF (North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) grant for $350,000. Since it is the largest and most competitive grant for recreation projects, Hendler-Voss said it was extremely important for their grant application to be close to perfect.
“Everyone and their brother are going after PARTF grants so we have to have a tight project and a tight application and good standing with the state,” he said.
The town will also be pursuing a number of smaller grants to go toward the project — a $15,000 grant from the Kiwanis Club, $50,000 from the Glass Foundation, $15,000 from Sisters of Mercy and $5,000 from Ingles Corporation.
“The hope is we raise more in private donations and sponsorships and grants so we can reduce the amount coming out of our fund balance and loan,” Hendler-Voss said.
Many of the grants being applied for require the town to show that the new pool will offer health and recreational opportunities for youth and senior citizens, which is why the design is for a six-lane lap pool. Six lanes is large enough for swim teams to hold practices and meets and large enough for the senior center to hold water aerobics classes during the day.
With the mayor and board of aldermen in consensus to move forward with the plan, the next step is to hold another public hearing to receive input on the part of the project that would be funded through the PARTF grant. That meeting will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Canton Armory. There will be no formal presentation, but the public is invited to stop in to see the pool project plans and ask questions.
Hendler-Voss said the town will apply for the USDA loan in January and should know whether it’s approved by April. If the loan is approved, the town wouldn’t have to begin making payments until 2018. Next summer, the town should find out whether it will be awarded the PARTF grant and then the construction project can be put out to bid.
Robinson said he was pleased with the project proposal and supported moving forward with it.
“I’m very encouraged by what we’ve seen,” he said “There are similar projects costing three to four times what we’ve come up with here — $2 million sounds like a lot but it’s good in this market.”
Alderman Ralph Hamlett agreed that the town staff and recreation commission did a great job presenting a feasible project that will keep the pool open to the community for years to come.
“I think we’ll have to roll up our sleeves to make it happen, but I think people will be willing to make donations to fund this project because they’ll see it’s going to have a long lasting benefit for everyone,” he said.