That sinking feeling
I’ve written this before, I’m writing it now and chances are I’ll write it again in the future.
Minden Hills township cannot afford an indoor swimming pool.
I know, I know . . . release the hounds or the kraken or whatever.
This is a conversation that takes place every few years. Usually, the pool monster surfaces during municipal elections, at least a few candidates making the construction of a public pool a main plank of their platforms. This time around, it will be as Minden Hills conducts a public consultation process on renovations to or replacement of the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena. The facility requires and will receive renovations that will cost a few million dollars, but adding an aquatic component would cost millions more.
We’re talking about a township with a total annual budget of about $12 million, about $7 million of which is levied from taxation. This year, about $3 million of that went into maintaining its roads network. Environmental services – which include the operation of landfills and water and sewer systems – cost about $2 million. General government – which includes administrative salaries – was about $1.8 million. The township’s OPP bill was also $1.8 million, a figure that will increase again next year.
You get the picture. It doesn’t take long for $12 million to get used up. And the township has more pressing projects to deal with. The new fire hall it’s on the verge of building comes immediately to mind. That project will likely cost a couple million.
Yes, the township has some cash stowed away, about $1.6 million in its capital reserves. However, most of that is likely bound for the fire hall project.
Let’s pretend Minden Hills could afford to build a complex with a swimming pool, that it got two-thirds funding from the feds and province and borrowed its third, debenturing that loan over a 20-year period. None of that would address the facility’s operating costs, which, with staff, chemicals, maintenance and repair of specialized equipment, etc., would likely total hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
User fees would have to be astronomically high to cover that. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that in a tiny community user fees would be able to cover that. Operating expenses would ultimately fall to the township’s taxpayers in the form of tax hikes. All for a facility used by a tiny portion of its taxpayer base.
While the concept of a community pool is wonderful, the reality of it remains outside the scope of fiscal reality for Minden Hills.