City talks pool, fire station needs: Board adds $25K to budget to study pool

Published 10:42 am Friday, August 28, 2015

Can the city afford a $500,000 swimming pool?

That was the question the Board of Aldermen spent several minutes discussing with the public earlier this week.

In Tuesday’s budget hearing, Roy Smith addressed the board on an issue that has been a source of disagreement for more than 20 years, since Brookhaven’s public pools closed. The expensive repairs at least one pool needed led to the pools, which were opened around the ‘60s, being closed.

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“As a concerned citizen of the east side of Brookhaven, we have petitioned this board on several occasions to build a recreation facility with a swimming pool,” Smith said. “In this particular budget we would like this board and the city to consider setting funds aside for that purpose. With the increasingly hot summers that we’re starting to get […] a swimming pool would drastically improve the quality of life for everyone here in Brookhaven.

“Statistics show that black children between the age of 5 and 19 drown five times more than children of Caucasian race,” Smith said. “And drowning is one of the most leading causes of death for children and adults overall, significantly in blacks. And that’s only because we don’t have the resources and the opportunities that most white families have when it comes to learning how to swim.”

Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates has been pushing for a pool since the other closed down, he said, and Ward 1 Alderman Randy Belcher has made efforts most recently. Recreation Department Director Terry Reid was asked to put together some numbers on the cost of public swimming pools. Reid said there is no federal or state money to build or repair a pool on any level, and he talked to the city managers of Indianola and Cleveland, sister cities to Brookhaven similar in size and demographics.

“A minimum pool for a town our size is going to be $500,000 just for the pool,” Reid said. “[…] You have to have to hire an engineer and an architect […] they tell you how big it’s supposed to be. […] you need showers, pool house, dressing rooms and people in there monitoring these rooms because you’re dealing with children and adults in a public setting.”

Reid said the system the other towns use to fund their pool, food tax and $1 a person entry fee, and said the city managers said they are not or barely able to cover the cost. Increasing maintenance costs and the large amount in liability insurances were mentioned by members of the board to be kept in mind. Reid said the $500,000 was for an outdoor pool, not an entire recreation facility and estimated the yearly cost to operate around $100,000. It was estimated it would take several million initially.

Bates said for as long as he’s been asking about it, the costly nature of public pools has been cited as the reason against them.

“That’s all I’ve heard for 20 years, about how bad [the old pool was] and you have to spend money to do it,” Bates said.

“A lot of people would love to have a pool, this isn’t a black thing, this is black-white thing, it’s all kids,” Belcher said. “My kids can swim — but I can afford to go to a hotel to do that, everybody can’t do that. Like I said every month we take this money in [and] we’re not just taking it from Randy Belcher and people who have a few dollars […] we’re taking it from everybody. We need to spread it out to everybody so when we’re looking at this figure and say ‘well it’s too much,’ just think about all taxpayers — all tax payers.”

“That’s another thing — it doesn’t have to go on the east side of town. I know y’all heard that earlier […],” Belcher said. “I’m not stuck on where it sits, as long as it sits in Brookhaven.”

Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice shared his feelings on the issue, a large part of which he said comes down to a pool versus a new or renovated fire station — which takes priority over recreation. The board discussed conditions at the fire station on Willard Street, which has fallen into disrepair and needs an overhaul. This overhaul, the board discussed, could be potentially mean erecting a new fire station building near the current location or extensive repairs.

“I’m having trouble wrapping my head around why we need a swimming pool,” Grice said. “You know I can be convinced but I’m not convinced yet. […] I’d rather see us line item a fire department. The fire department serves everybody, the whole city, not just kids — everybody. […] The point being, that priority is way higher than recreation.”

“I’m just looking at recreation, we’re looking at putting a lot of money in recreation [and] I’m just saying lets spread it out there,” Belcher said. “You could lose one kid in a drowning at Lake Lincoln or a creek and… my deal is if there’s somewhere you can save a life you might say that’s a lot of money but if you can save one life it’s worth it.”

Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox said just looking at the numbers, the pool will be expensive. He said, however, if the board wanted to start a line item to look into the idea, it was not a terrible idea. The board cited the need for initial information before any city project is pursued.

“We need to do a feasibility study of installing a pool […] we need those numbers to make a good decision […] $10,000 for a feasibility study,” Ward 6 Alderman David Phillips said. “We cannot put enough money in there effectively to do a pool. But you do need those studies. You know you’re going to have to hire somebody to come in here and give us the plans and what it costs — and what it cost to maintain, what it cost to staff and the exposure the city has to the swimming pool, where it would be located — all that kind of stuff.”

The board agreed to open a line item under the recreation department/parks budget for $25,000 with the idea of seeking a feasibility study.

“Building a pool is one side of it, you have to have someone to teach [kids], that costs money,” Reid said. “The parents have got to take a little responsibility in this, you know they got to get them there. It’s got to be an education process in the whole deal too […] to get [parents] to bring [children] to learn.”

Cox also briefed the board on recent efforts to address the fire station needs, including meeting with someone in Sen. Thad Cochran’s office for help seeking federal money.

“They understand the need, we need another fire station,” Cox said. “It would be the Willard Street that needs to be replaced and we were kind of considering the location actually staying on Willard Street but going a little further east. There’s some planning going on there […] That’s not a want, that’s a need. We need the one up here to be redone and replaced, we know that.”

Cox said as the Hwy. 84 bypass is developed over the next several years the city will need to look at adding another fire station there to maintain the fire rating of Class 5 the city recently earned.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen anticipate adopting the 2015-2016 proposed budget at the regular board meeting Sept. 15. at 6:30 p.m., and it is not official until that point.

For weeks leading up to the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, city officials and agencies have been preparing the 2015-2016 budget. The city of Brookhaven anticipates no tax increase in the new budget.

City Clerk Mike Jinks said that the 2014-2015 general fund budget was approximately $12 million, and that this coming fiscal year’s budget is expected to stay close to the $12 million mark.