WP Council supports aquatic center: Resolves to explore all funding options

Surveys show that Woodland Park residents have wanted an aquatic center for more than 30 years. The Woodland Aquatic Project board is now ready to present its strategic plan for making that wish a reality. File photo
Norma Engelberg Contributing writer
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Woodland Park City Council met a full house when Mayor Dave Turley convened the Oct. 3 meeting. The running joke throughout the evening was that the crowd was there to hear the Woodland Park Visitors Center annual recap from Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Miller. Actually, most people were there to support the Woodland Aquatic Project.

Project Board President Gerry Simon presented a resolution that suggested a change in the use of the city's 410 Street Fund to help pay for the cost of building, maintaining and running an aquatic center in Woodland Park. The 410 fund is a 1 percent sales tax that was approved by the voters in 1984 to pay for paving Woodland Park's dirt streets, installing sidewalks and improving drainage. Changing the use of that fund, even if only partially, would take another vote, a provision that was covered in section 2 of the Woodland Aquatic Project resolution.

In the event that voters approve the tax change, section 3 asks council to approve a site for the aquatic center, select a contractor and use the city's general fund to commission a concept design.

More than 20 people in the audience signed up to speak on the resolution and, in the interest of time, council agreed to limit public discussion to a total of one hour. Board Director Steve Jeroslow told council that he was outraged that they would put an “artificial” limit on something so important but Turley said it wasn't an artificial limit but an actual one and that Jeroslow should use his speaking time wisely. Jeroslow said it was council's obligation to maintain and improve the city's good quality of life. “The aquatic center appeals to every segment of the community,” he said.

It appeared that everyone at the meeting agreed with that statement, including councilmembers. Their reasons were many; including a pool would be good for the kids and the school district, good for seniors and a boon for the economy. Many in the audience had been waiting for more than 20 years for a swimming pool. Some of the high school students speaking in support of the project have waited their entire lives.

Dr. Richard Harris, who has been practicing medicine in Woodland Park for 35 years, said a pool would be great therapy for the many retired veterans he serves who have sacrificed their bodies and health in service to their country.

Once public comment ended, council proceeded with deliberations. Councilmember Gary Brovetto asked Simon why he didn't list a straight sales tax increase as a funding option. Simon replied that there have already been two failed attempts to raise taxes for this project. Councilmember Eric Smith said he supported those measures and he still supports the building of a pool but that if a ballot measure passed this time the city would be taking on 30 years of debt payments.

Turley said he didn't think using 410 moneys was a good fit and that he would be willing to seek other options for funding, including using money from general revenue.

“I would like to see us make this (the aquatic center) happen so let's start setting money aside for it,” he said. “I'm tired of talking about this; let's make it happen.”

Councilmember Carrol Harvey, who served on the Woodland Aquatic Project board in the past, made a motion to accept the resolution with a number of changes: delete sections 2 and 3 and the words “and/or 410 Account” from Section 1. This would allow council to explore all funding options available. Council voted to accept the amended resolution unanimously.

Councilmember Bob Carlsen, who currently serves on the project board, told his fellow councilmembers that they had given him hope.

While the changes to the resolution were sweeping, Simon said, “This is as far as we've ever gotten. This is good news.” After the meeting he added that if council had shot the resolution down, the project probably would have fallen apart.

Turley said council would direct City Manager David Buttery and his staff to take a good look at the 2014 budget to find money that could be set aside for the project. Brovetto added that a tax increase might get the pool built faster. “People who want this should vote to support it,” he said.

Budget discussions will start during the Oct. 17 meeting. Next year's budget must be approved by early December.