With a vote by the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night, a proposal to take $400,000 from the town’s "contingency" fund for improvements to Mills Pond Pool will now go to the Board of Finance.
First Selectmen Richard Barlow advocated the proposal, contending that it would help get the facility through the next several years until the town is potentially ready to move forward with a plan for a new pool to replace the 50-meter facility built in 1973.
The first selectmen said the money, potentially combined with the Small Town Economic Assistance Program funding the town may seek for the pool next year, would provide a way to fund larger items such as new decking, paint removal and plaster replacement on the pool shell and improving mechanical systems while bringing them all above ground in a separate structure.
Barlow also advocated forming a group with Parks and Recreation Director Brian Wilson, Parks commission members and Permanent Municipal Building Committee representatives to fine tune the recommendations.
Selectman Lowell Humphrey said he disagreed with the approach and raised other concerns.
Humphrey said he felt a group should be formed but should meet first then come back to the town seeking an appropriation.
Barlow said he felt the pool study selectmen received in March gave a good indication of what is needed to get it through the next several years. Appropriating the funds would also put the town in a good spot if it in fact applies for state Small Town Economic Assistance Program funds next year as selectmen have indicated the likely will.
Chief Administrative officer Robert Skinner said the improvements being discussed would cost about $590,000 and Wilson later said some of the improvements could carry over to a new facility.
Humphrey countered the pool has lost $250,000 over the past five years. He argued that it might not be wise to spend so much on a facility near the end of its lifespan.
“I’m just not convinced that’s an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding that the town has numerous needs that warrant further discussion on the issue.
During public forum at the beginning of the meeting, a couple of residents addressed the idea as well.
Wayne Goeben, who emphasized that he was speaking as a private citizen and not a member of any organization, asked the Board of Selectmen think carefully about the proposal and look at a “comprehensive list of what we need and we want and what we can afford.”
In addition Penny Phillips read a letter by Robert D. Miller, who could not make the meeting. Miller is the resident who started an online petition in a recent attempt to get funding for a new pool added as a potential bonding project that would go to voters in November.
Several will be on the November ballot. If approved the town would sell bonds and pay them back with interest over time. The pool, however, is not one of them and was not recommended by a study group that met earlier this year. A pool study was being done when they met but came out after they made their recommendations.
Miller’s letter contended it might not be too late to bond sooner than later. He said he supported the funding but asked selectmen to consider a committee that could come up with a proposal for a new pool and potentially hold a referendum for the facility before the first bonds are sold in 2013.
The $400,000 could then offset the cost or if voted down could then be used for short-term repairs, the letter stated.
“Let us work together to put a plan in place that does more than just buy time,” he wrote. “Let us pursue all means possible to ensure that the pool remains a vibrant community asset for current and future generations.”
Other pool ideas were discussed as well.
One was revenue possibilities. Wilson said they are there with both 25- and 50-meter configurations but Skinner said it would be a balancing act because it would take time away from the public’s use. Some selectmen also questioned the park's ability to support the crowds.
The study recommends a 25-meter area with an attached but segregated recreational swimming area. Wilson said there are “bulkheads” available that can divide a larger area but added that they can also be expensive.
Wilson also answered several questions about the facility. If the town is looking at potentially bonding for a pool several years down the road, the decking will not last that long, he said.
Wilson also said that some of the improvements, such as the mechanicals, would carry over to a new facility. One is an above-ground filtration system.
“If you do that now and then build a new pool, you’ll still be able to use that infrastructure,” he said. "Piecing it together in the right way is important."
Fixing the shell would save about $20,000 a per year in annual maintenance costs, Wilson added.
Selectmen voted 3-1-1 to send the recommendation to the Board of Finance. It is on the board's agenda for Monday, Sept. 17.
Officials said the estimated undesignated fund balance for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 is $4.9 million, about 14.16 percent of the town's budget. Towns generally look to have from 5 to 15 percent in the fund and the Board of Finance in Canton has set a goal of 10 percent.
Humphrey voted against while Barlow, David Gilchrist Jr. and Tom Sevigny supported it. Stephen Roberto abstained because he had to come to the meeting late and missed some of the conversation.
The pool study and other documentation can be found at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m0tiyljr39trpts/5LP9rDC3eI