Selectmen decide to decline pool proposal

by | Feb 12, 2019

During a muted public hearing on the Auburn swimming pool proposal, the Board of Selectman ultimately decided to table the project and graciously decline the $1 million gift offer from Dr. Martha Pappas. 

Over the course of the past year, the Town has undertaken a feasibility study to determine how much a municipal pool would cost, where one could be built, whether there was public appetite for funding the construction of the pool, and if it could be operated at break even or a profit. 

“One thing the consultant study told us was that most municipal pools operate at a deficit” said Town Manager Julie Jacobson at the outset of the meeting. “It is very unusual for them to break even. There are going to be tax impacts [from the pool project].” 

According to Jacobson, it has been hard to determine the interest level, as there has not been a lot of input.

“We did two online surveys. We got about 900 responses the first time, and about 400 the second time. But relative to the number of registered voters in town, that is not a terrific response”. 

Jacobson added that the surveys indicated a pretty even split between those in favor of the pool, and those opposed. 

“Most of those who were in favor also wanted the indoor option with amenities, which would have resulted in the higher cost options” she added. 

According to town CFO Ed Kazanovicz, the cost just for construction of a $9 million facility would cost residential taxpayers, on average, about $137 per year at the current tax levy. The average cost to business taxpayers would be $745 per year. 

Three residents spoke during the public comment segment of the hearing. Russell Tallisman of Oxford St. brought up the

Russell Tallisman speaks to the Board of Selectmen Feb. 11, 2019 [Jeff LaBonte photo]

concern of liability, insurance costs, and the Town’s exposure should there be a serious incident at a pool facility. 

Chuck Miller spoke in favor of the proposal. ” We don’t want more taxes, but sometimes there’s a benefit that presents itself, and you have to bite the bullet.” 

Each of the Selectmen also came out against accepting the $1 million gift or advancing the pool proposal to either a non-binding referendum or to a ballot question. Selectman Holstrom stated, “We are elected to make these kinds of difficult decisions, and I think we have to do that here.”

All of the selectmen and Town officials expressed tremendous gratitude to the Pappas family for funding the feasibility study, the gift offer and for all of their prior philanthropy in town. But all the selectmen were in agreement that the timing is just not right with Auburn paying down bonds for the High School and Middle School, and other significant projects potentially coming up. 

In other business, the Board of Selectmen approved a “live streaming” policy developed by Tristan LaLiberte and Lionel Berthiaume. Beginning March 11, Selectmen meetings will be available via live stream on YouTube. The BOS agreed to encourage other boards and committees to follow suit. 

Town Clerk, Debra Gremo reminded residents that nomination papers for the annual town election are now available in the town clerk’s office in town hall. Nomination papers must be returned by April 2.  The annual election is May 21. 

Gremo also reminded residents to please return their annual census ASAP. 

Town Manager Julie Jacobson announced that Auburn did apply for and receive a $20,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation for the design of the dog park. 

“We thank the Fur Friends for the hard work they did to raise the required matching amount so we [Auburn] could apply for the design grant” said Jacobson. 

She added that now the town can apply for an additional grant of up to $180,000 to fund the actual construction of the dog park. 

Jacobson also added Auburn received a $10,000 signage and wayfinding grant for the Drury Square initiative. 

CFO Ed Kazanovicz presented a draft Debt Management Policy that the town is preparing. While much of the content is already in practice as part of the town’s fiscal policy, having the written plan can be helpful especially with bond ratings. 

“Our latest bond rating from S&P was AA+ and was accompanied by the comment that Auburn’s financial condition was ‘remarkable’ and the ‘strongest AA+ rating in the Commonwealth’.”

According to Kazanovicz, having the written debt management policy along with the current fiscal policy could help Auburn to a AAA rating.