The county commissioners’ agenda Jan. 29 included an action item to award a $38,000 contract to Asheville-based Clark Nexsen, which would complete the pre-design work necessary toward figuring out how much it might cost to add an indoor pool to the recreation center in Cullowhee. From there, commissioners would approve language for a referendum question asking voters for permission to take out a bond to pay for the pool. The total cost involved with bringing the question to a vote was estimated at $58,000.
The contract award was first placed on the meeting agenda for Dec. 18, but Commissioner Charles Elders moved to table it, with Commissioner Boyce Deitz and Chairman Brian McMahan supporting that move as Commissioner Ron Mau and Mickey Luker voted opposed.
Those in favor of tabling felt that the issue warranted more discussion before making a decision.
The outcome Jan. 29 was nearly the same as that of the December meeting. This time Deitz moved to table, with McMahan and Elders again voting in favor of delaying the decision and Luker and Mau opposed.
“I move that we table this and study it more,” Deitz said. “We ought to talk to the hospital about it. I think they could help us. We ought to talk to the school system about it. I just think there’s a lot to be said about where the thing’s going to be built, things of this nature.”
The pre-design work by Clark Nexsen would be site-specific, and while locating the pool on the site of the existing recreation center would make it less expensive and at the county’s geographical center, some commissioners said they wanted to explore placing it in a community that doesn’t currently have any recreation facilities.
Deitz said he felt like the process was being rushed and that moving ahead now could cause the county to wind up with a haphazard kind of product that doesn’t truly meet the need.
“One of the reasons you hire an architect is to address the very issues you’re bringing up,” Mau said. “That would be part of the design process.”
However, Deitz questioned what the rush was, apart from trying to get the issue on the November ballot. In a work session Jan. 16, County Manager Don Adams said that the timeline was getting “pretty close” if a November referendum was the goal.
“I think if it’s not done this month or next month, we’d be pushing it a little close,” Adams said. “I’d say within the next couple meetings as far as being able to pull the trigger on the architect.”
Commissioners have a work session scheduled for Feb. 13 in which they could possibly discuss the pool issue further, which could allow for another vote at their regular meeting later that month. However, according to Adams’ statement Jan. 16 failure to award the contract at that time would mean abandoning the effort to hold a referendum this year.
If the referendum question does not get on the ballot this year, the next opportunity wouldn’t come until November 2020. In September 2017, commissioners passed a resolution to restrict referendums on local tax increases and bonds to the November elections of even-numbered years.
“We passed that resolution that we’ll put issues on the ballot when we know people are going to show up, unlike what’s happened in the past with this board,” Mau said.
Deitz maintained that the delay would be worth it.
“Tonight I’d like to go swim — or drown, or something — but at the same time there’s a lot that goes into this,” he said. “Where are we going to put this thing? Who’s going to take care of it? Who’s going to take care of it on Christmas Day?”