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In a series of four articles I will try and lay out some of the more obvious issues concerning a municipal pool in the Greater Parry Sound area. I will alternatively refer to this as ‘pool’, ‘aquatic centre’ or ‘recreational complex’. There is a difference between the three terms that may come into play in the discussion. A pool is something we already have in Parry Sound and in the local area, by my count at least three in local hotels. These are rather modest facilities, in some regards not much more than ‘super-sized’ hot tubs that provide a valuable service to many in the community. The next step up in terms of size and facilities is an aquatic centre. I would imagine that this might include two pools, one for more exercise-oriented use that could host competitive meets, and the other targeted to recreational use, perhaps with an extended shallow area for children. It might also have a diving pool. I imagine that a recreational complex would combine an aquatic centre with a full gymnasium or exercise centre. Big – Bigger – Biggest.

At this point in the process I have shifted my position on the desirability of a pool to one of neutral. I have in the past suggested that a pool is not something the Town needs, even if it wants it. That position was based on my research into the costs and my observations on how the various communities were cooperating. Why bother to even consider a pool if the costs would be very high and there was little prospect for regional cooperation. It seems that in the past couple of years there has been a shift to more cooperation, in principle at least, when it comes to the issue of an aquatic centre that can be used and shared by the area municipalities.

The issue of cost remains the biggest issue and will be the topic of a separate post. If a pool was ‘free’, and let’s remember nothing is actually ‘free’, it seems to me that the plans for a pool would be underway, if the pool were not already built.

I will relate my thinking about the cost of a pool to my thinking about personally purchasing, servicing and enjoying a Porsche. I don’t own a Porsche for many of the same reasons we don’t have a municipal pool already. In both cases somebody needs to come up with the cash for the initial purchase/build. Since neither of us could afford a Porsche or a pool from our bank accounts we would need to take out a loan. The question would be whether we could afford the monthly payments. In the case of the Town they could. It might mean raising taxes or deferring other infrastructure projects. In the case of my new Porsche it would mean taking on a second job or cutting expenses. Perhaps I could sell my property and move to Carling or Seguin where I would save thousands annually on taxes but still have access to Parry Sound services. Though, perhaps not the high speed internet access I need for work. Dang, not an easy solution but perhaps the Province and the Feds will build the internet structure I would need. But that’s another issue that only confuses the discussion of a pool.

So, even if I could make the necessary sacrifices to buy a Porsche I would need to face the operating expenses. It’s a Porsche, so it wouldn’t be cheap. Expenses that would require more income or additional sacrifices. Annual operating expenses is probably the biggest issue for any aquatic centre, recreational complex or municipal pool. In the case of Parry Sound that would mean raising taxes or cutting back on other services. Perhaps we could get folks to agree to reduced snow removal services.

But, if three friends in the area were to go in on the purchase of Porsche Boxster I might be able to swing it. Cutting the upfront and ongoing costs by three quarters might make it manageable. I really wouldn’t need it full time. It’s not practical in winter, so I would still need my Honda Civic. Having access to the Boxster a couple days a week would be more than acceptable, especially if one of my neighbours would keep it in their garage. Hmmm! Seems like something I might be interested in. I would of course be much more interested if one of my neighbours were to buy the Porsche and let me use it for ‘gas money’.

I think that’s not an unreasonable analogy for the issues underlying a municipally owned and operated pool. I wonder if it would be easier to find three other people to chip in for a Porsche than get the local municipalities to chip for a pool. Each of the local municipalities has their own concerns that range from land use to infrastructure demands to cost. But I’m getting ahead of myself, more on this in future posts.

My bottom line is that I’m very much okay with the idea of a pool, aquatic centre or recreational complex if it doesn’t cost me anything in capital or operating costs. I’m probably still okay if the tax payer related costs were minimal and users would be responsible for the larger part of the expenses. I’m not that interested in using a pool. That’s just not what I’m interested in. If I want to get wet I can use one of the local beaches. If I want to exercise I can bike, walk, hike, ski or snowshoe depending on the season. I suspect that’s one of the reasons people have concerns about a municipally supported pool. They may feel they will be paying for a resource they don’t use. Not everyone who pays for the pool will use the pool.

That’s the case for me with the Stockey Centre and the Bobby Orr Community Centre. I don’t use them. At this point these two facilities cost the taxpayers of Parry Sound more than $500,000 per year and the Town is now preparing to put in another $2 to $3 million in necessary renovations and repairs. These costs will need to be paid for with a bond paid off over 20 years that will add to the current $500,000 in costs. It’s not the case with a hospital. Everyone hopes they don’t use it but are willing to pay for it to be there if and when they do need it. Let’s realize that a municipal pool is a quality of life expense, like my Porsche.

Actually, the Porsche analogy isn’t really appropriate. I don’t want a Porsche at any cost. A pool? A pool I might be okay with. It depends on the cost

The next post will offer some back of the envelope calculations on the cost to build and operate a pool. They won’t be right, but they’ll be closer to right than wrong.