It’s beginning to look like voters in North Bend will decide the future of the city pool in May.
During a city council work session Monday, councilors discussed the pool and directed city staff to prepare some options to ask the voters to approve a parks and recreation tax levy. If approved, the levy would help fund city parks, the community center and the pool. The funding would also free up money in the general fund to benefit the police department and other city needs.
During the discussion Monday, City Recorder KayLee Marone explained that close to 70 percent of the users of the pool are not North Bend residents. Marone said city records show 2,073 people who live outside the city limits bought passes or signed up for programs at the pool. The figures do not include those who purchased day passes or were part of swim teams.
“These are folks that live elsewhere, they’re paying taxes elsewhere, but they’ve come to use the facilities,” City Administrator David Milliron said.
In that group, 62 percent used a Coos Bay address to register, 17 percent live in rural North Bend with the remainder spreading out through primarily Coos and Curry counties.
“The pool is borne on the backs of the taxpayers of North Bend, but is actually serving the region,” Milliron said. “You can now see the region you’ve been serving, and it’s not just a Coos County region. You actually have a lot more counties.”
The council briefly discussed rates, suggesting the rate for non-residents should be significantly higher than the one for residents. While there is a different rate for city residents and non-residents, it is not significant. Under the new fees approved by the council this month, a resident child would pay around $3.50 for a day pass with a non-resident child paying $4.12.
“It’s not a big gap, about 20 percent,” Marone said. “It wasn’t a lot because we didn’t want to exclude them from using the pool.”
One of the challenges with the North Bend pool is its size and the fact it’s indoors. As a result, the expense of operating it is much higher than what most community pools face. For example, the pool is open 4,900 hours a year and requires a minimum of three lifeguards on duty every time it is open.
“That’s a lot of staffing, and when minimum wage goes up, it’s a big hit,” Marone said.
While the pool does bring in revenue, it does not come close to breaking even.
“For every dollar we were spending to operate the pool, we were bringing in 60 cents,” Milliron said.
And that figure did not include deferred maintenance, some that must be done before the pool can reopen.
Even with the challenges, the city has been able to control costs. In 1994, when the city first took over operations, it cost $394,000 to run the pool. In 2019-20, before the pandemic, it cost $338,000.
Since 1994, the city has used general fund money to offset losses in the pool. But after voters cut in half the amount the city can charge to fund emergency services, that is no longer an option.
“Going forward, if we want the pool to be sustainable, we need to cover operating expenses,” Milliron said.
That’s where a tax levy could come in. Marone said staff has determined a levy that costs each taxpayer $138 per year, or $11.50 a month, would sustain the pool, community center and parks. The levy would run for five years, during which time the city could do all the maintenance on the pool and seek to find an outside organization to operate it, which would reduce the expense to the city.
The immediate need is some of the deferred maintenance.
“We have some very large capital needs,” Milliron said. “We’ve done a lot in the last seven years, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done. We’ve got to figure out how to address the capital projects so it can open efficiently.”
Marone said three projects need to be completed before the pool can properly reopen.
First, a new pump needs to be installed so the pool can meet state standards. Second, the filter, which is still the original filter from 1956, needs to be replaced. As part of that project, the 1956 piping also needs to be replaced.
“The filter room looks almost identical to what it did in 1956,” Marone said.
Council members seemed united in their goal to keep the pool open, with several saying a levy covering all parks is better than one just for the pool.
“That’s more palatable to me,” Councilman Bill Richardson said. “That sounds to me like it would cover our public safety. That seems to be a pretty good step in the right solution.”
Milliron did tell the council time was important. If the council wants voters to decide in the May election cycle, they have until Feb. 27 to order the election.
“There’s a short fuse we would have to jump on to make the May referendum,” Milliron said. “If the voters say we want our pool, the best time to do it is during COVID. Your down time is the best time to get in there and get the maintenance done.”
Milliron added that he and city staff have looked into and applied for numerous grants, all to no avail.
Ultimately, the council decided having a pool is important. They also favored the levy that covers the parks system.
“You can sell it on different levels,” Councilman Eric Gleason said. “For those people who don’t use the pool, they probably use the park or they’ve probably used the community center. I say we get on it now.”
After the discussion, all seven members of the council agreed to have staff move forward with the idea, asking Milliron to present several levy options to council in time to make it on the May election.