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EDITORIAL: Pool success hinges on financial planning

Last week's Powell Aquatic Center opening was, for many community members, a much-anticipated event.

The center will offer fitness and recreation opportunities for swimmers young and old — and the facility replaces the dilapidated (and soon to be demolished) natatorium as the venue for school and club swim team practices and competitions, as well as recreation district lessons.

All positive things for a community — but a dark cloud looms on the horizon.

Revenue for the aquatic center is estimated at $217,475 for the first year, while operating costs could top $700,000.

City officials say the overage collected on the capital facilities tax that funded pool construction will keep the facility afloat for this year — but a projected $500,000 budget shortfall in subsequent years is a serious problem.

The $2 million operations and maintenance endowment put in the bank by the cap tax won't generate the revenue necessary to run the facility — especially with recent interest rates at dismally low levels.

It's time for city officials, councilmen, community members and other organizations to engage in some serious planning for the future operation and maintenance of the pool.

When taxpayers, in 2006, passed the capital facilities tax to pay for a new pool in Powell, they became stakeholders in the center's success. Usage drives revenue — taxpayers now need to support the facility they wanted by using the pool and buying memberships.

The city, too, must promote traffic at the aquatic center by marketing the facility — both to community members and to neighboring towns. Membership incentives, such as the charter memberships offered by the Cody Rec Center when it opened, may be necessary.

The school district and the recreation department also need to pay their fair share for use of the aquatic center.

Without the new pool, a generation of Powell kids could have been deprived of both recreational and competitive swimming opportunities.

Finally, the City Council, which has been a strong proponent of the facility since long before the ground-breaking, must think aggressively and creatively about ways to make the center fiscally solvent.

While the tax overage has, in effect, bought a year-long reprieve — and has given city officials and pool employees a year of data-gathering, it's time to begin serious planning to make sure the aquatic center remains a plus for the community well into the future.

Failure to do so will put city coffers in serious jeopardy.

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