With the successful filing of a petition Thursday morning, a town meeting will be held to determine whether the Town of Canton should spend as much as $12,500 for a feasibility study on converting Mills Pond Pool to a year-round facility.
Town Clerk Linda Smith said she has verified that there were more than 150 valid signatures to petition a town meeting on the issue.
Filed by resident Rob Miller the petition is to hold a town meeting vote on whether the town should tap into the Mills Pond Pool Evaluation and Improvements Account to fund the study.
The measure would have to pass at the meeting with at least 75 affirmative votes, according to town charter.
Park and Rec Commission member Frank Culkin recently presented the Board of Selectmen with research he had conducted on the issue. Culkin has estimated that with an architectural covering the town could generate enough revenue to make the pool self sustaining and even profitable. Culkin asked selectmen to consider funding an independent study to validate — or challenge — the conclusions.
Most selectmen, however, balked at the proposal. First Selectman Richard Barlow stated the selectmen had clearly charged the Park and Recreation Commission to come forward with a recommendation.
At that previous selectmen's meeting, Culkin acknowledged the commission had not come to that consensus. According to Park and Rec. commission minutes and statements by commission member Chris Eckert, some members felt the town has not determined its long-range plan for the pool. Some other members questioned some of Culkin's numbers and said the money should be reserved in case $400,000 in previously approved pool improvements go over budget. (See more of the background in this earlier Patch story).
However, the commission met Thursday night and despite several voiced reservations the four members in attendance voted 3-1 in favor of making the recommendation, using similar wording to the petition (stated below). Chris Eckert, Bev Hammond, Frank Culkin voted in favor and Ben Holden opposed.
There was much discussion the proposal. Culkin said he felt there would be many benefits such as jobs, programs, the ability to break even or raise money, provide a place for swim teams and possibly even open the possibility of a high school team.
But Culkin said he felt the study would support his findings or invalidate them.
"I think it makes sense for us to look at this," he said.
Earlier in the meeting Holden expressed several concerns such as energy supply and usage, the scope of the study and heating costs. He said he had agonized over whether to support it and wanted the commission to further discuss it.
"At least in part, it’s a question of timing," he said. "I would like to discuss this but I do not see committing the town to spend that money at this time.
Holden also spoke against voting on a recommendation, stating that the town meeting was the higher authority. He lauded Culkin for his courage in presenting the plan.
At this point it remains to be seen if selectmen take any formal action with the recommendation since the petition has already filed but at the beginning of their meeting Parks and Recreation Director Brian Wilson told the commission it was something selectmen had emphasized they were looking for.
On Friday, Barlow said he was pleased to see a recommendation and confirmed selectmen would likely take no action pending the result of the town meeting.
"There's no benefit for the board to take action on the recommendation because ultimately it's in the hands of the voters at the town meeting," Barlow said.
He did, however, say he wants to clarify where the idea falls among the commission's priorities.
The Board of Selectmen will likely meet Feb. 6 to set a date for the town meeting. Officials said they anticipate the meeting would be held at the Canton High School auditorium at 7 p.m. on Feb. 19. That date, however, would need to be confirmed.
The petition read as follows:
We, the undersigned persons qualified to vote in Town Meetings, hereby petition that the Canton Board of Selectmen conduct a Special Town Meeting to discuss and vote on whether the Town of Canton shall hire an independent consultant at a cost not to exceed $12,500 from the Mills Pond Pool Evaluation and Improvements Account to conduct a feasibility study on enclosing the municipal pool located at Mills Pond Park with a removable structure that would allow for year round operation and expanded aquatic programming.