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Column: Closing the pool is a desperate answer to CBJ budget woes

Posted: August 31, 2014 - 12:08am

It wasn’t that long ago the Juneau residents debated on the value of building a second community pool in the valley. Now we’ll be facing a new controversy — what to do with the downtown August Brown pool. Construction costs to correct building deficiencies over the next 10 years are estimated at $5.5 million, adding weight to the argument that the pool should be closed to offset shortfalls in the borough’s operating budget. That solution is not only short sighted, it falsely portrays Juneau as a poverty plagued community.

During the past 10 years CBJ has spent tens of millions of dollars repairing, renovating or rehabilitating half a dozen schools as old as the Augustus Brown pool. So we should be well versed on the relative price tag to keep older buildings in working order.

On the other side of the short-term memory ledger is the fact that five years ago the assembly voted to spend $1.2 million to add two swim lanes to the Dimond Park Aquatic Center. This happened after bids to build it came in under the engineer’s estimate. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, but at the time no one discussed the idea of putting that money aside for the future needs of the older facility.

And we should remember the heart of the lengthy community debate about building the valley pool. Proponents prevailed mostly on their arguments that the one we had was overcrowded and a well-designed valley pool might possibly generate enough revenue to pay its operating and maintenance costs.

In 2006, a year before construction of the valley pool was approved by voters, it logged 102,000 visitors, excluding spectators. Last year both pools saw a total of 109,000 visitors. That means opponents of the second pool were right – the taxpayer subsidy is much higher to operate two pools.

Now assembly member Randy Wanamaker is wondering if Juneau’s population base is too small to support two pools. He’s posed this question only in terms of money — what can we afford given the borough’s current and projected budget shortfalls — without considering the original concern that overcrowding negatively impacts the quality of user experience.

The answer isn’t to close the pool without debating raising additional revenue. At the CBJ assembly meeting in April, Bill Leighty, who is an avid swimmer at Augustus Brown, asked that everyone pay more to use to the pool “to close the subsidy gap.” Others suggested property tax hikes, which could be across the board or in the form of reducing the senior tax exemptions.

Wanamaker has consistently opposed raising taxes as a way to balance the borough’s budget. He’s not alone. But like many of those who think we’re already taxed enough, Wanamaker is a strong supporter of building the road up Lynn Canal. Which means he’s not opposed to someone else’s tax dollars being spent for our benefit but prefers not to tax ourselves.

And by leaning toward mothballing a usable public facility he’s not recognizing the similarity to a neighborhood of foreclosed homes remaining vacant during tough economic times. It depresses the community while nudging city officials toward desperate measures to reduce the public debt.

Look at Detroit and Chicago. The motor city is currently cutting off water services to residents who are two months behind paying their bills. In 2008, Chicago privatized collection from parking meters, a deal which effectively taxed city users even more as the new corporate managers raised rates while depositing all the revenue into their private bank account instead of city coffers.

Desperation implies poverty is around the corner. But the poverty rate in Juneau is six times lower than Detroit’s and a quarter of Chicago’s. We have a median household income approaching $80,000 compared to $27,000 and $47,000 in those two cities. And home values and ownership rates tell the same story. We can afford two pools.

Raising taxes isn’t a matter that isolates all other values from money because the quality of life is related to community generosity and overall concern for the people who live around us. So even if we don’t use the pools, we need to remember many of our neighbors do, and we’ve got a deep reserve of private wealth that should be tapped for their sake before closing the Augustus Brown pool.

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Brad Fluetsch
Brad Fluetsch 08/31/14 - 07:24 am
blah blah blah

Swimming costs taxpayers $1 million annually in operational subsidies between the two pools. Assuming your visit number is correct, raise the price per visit by $9.17 and the pools will break even. Bill Leighty, Bob Storer don't need to have the working folk subsidize their recreation.

Bulldoze the old one and make into a parking lot, Juneau needs parking. Rich, it is called "FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY" not desperation.

Karl Ashenbrenner
Karl Ashenbrenner 08/31/14 - 08:28 am
A parking lot?

are you kidding....I really bet you would park by the highschool so you could walk downtown. If parking is your concern why did you not rail against all the tourist improvements downtown which by the way removed approx. 15 parking spaces if not more. Just so some tourist could marvel at a brick sidewalk. Fix the dang pool, up the charge by 50% and lets call it good. There are a lot other things that CBJ wastes money on that are for the benefit of none of the citizens.

Brad Fluetsch
Brad Fluetsch 08/31/14 - 08:39 am
really Karl?

I didn't say downtown needs parking, I said Juneau needs parking, which btw includes the high school... Downtown does not need parking, the new parking garage was nearly empty the other day when I went to get a hair cut. btw Karl, parking lots don't cost a million a year in operational subsidies.

Haily George
Haily George 08/31/14 - 08:56 am
Rich, Things are pretty

Rich, Things are pretty desperate if our city is putting senior sales tax exemptions on the butchers block to fill a revenue shortfall in our town. If this is the case then we can't afford 2 pools.

Take senior sales tax exemptions off the table and then we can talk.

As a kid I swam at Evergreen Bowl. Although it wasn't heated and the concrete was crumbling we had a great time.

Seniors built Juneau, lets worry about their quality of life

"We have a median household income approaching $80,000 compared to $27,000 and $47,000 in those two cities" ???

Rich, it costs a lot more to live in Juneau that's why the median house hold incomes are higher. Realize seniors are on a reduced income and they are faced with increasing health care problems and costs. Also there is no adequate housing for seniors in Juneau

Art Petersen
Art Petersen 08/31/14 - 08:52 am
CBJ needs two pools.

Before the valley pool, it was just too far for valley and out-the-road residents to drive for regular swims. Similarly, it's just too far to drive from Juneau and Douglas to the valley for regular swims. And besides, the valley pool is already crowded. The CBJ has two pools, one of which needs restorative maintenance. Make that a bond issue. It will likely pass. Raise the price of admission. Swimmers will pay it. Juneau with just one pool, and one that's already too small, is not enough.

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