David Rupkalvis

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As The World has reported several times, the North Bend City Council is likely to ask voters to approve a tax levy to keep the city pool open.

The reality is public pools owned by cities or counties lose money. They all do. The question is how much is a city willing to lose to add to the quality of life of its residents. For decades, North Bend accepted the cost because the pool is popular. People like it, they use it, and for members of the city council, the political risk of closing the pool outweighed the expense.

Things have changed in North Bend in recent months, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic that closed the pool, in part due to new leadership in the city and on the council and, largely, due to a voter-passed measure that limited the amount of money the city can raise for emergency services.

In May, 58 percent of North Bend voters passed Measure 6-177, which cut the public safety fee in half. As a result, North Bend was faced with a choice of eliminating much of its police staff or find somewhere else to save money.

Or both, which is what has happened so far. North Bend cut four officers and one dispatch position, fewer than projected at the time of the vote.

The difference has been thanks to the pool being closed. With no expenses, and therefore no lost revenue from the pool, North Bend moved money from the pool to the police line to continue a 24-hour police presence.

While I personally agree with that decision, it is only temporary. Sometime in the near future, COVID will wane and the pool will be allowed to open. At that time, the city council will face a difficult choice – open the pool or close it to keep its police department staffed.

From what I have seen and read, there is a mixed response in the city. Some people believe having a police presence around the clock is more important than the pool. Others stop short of criticizing police, but they say the city should do what it said it would if the measure passed. That would mean eliminating more police officers and having no one on the streets overnight.

My personal belief, as someone who does not currently live in North Bend and has never been to the pool, is having law enforcement 24 hours a day is more important than having a pool. And it appears the city council agrees.

Which will leave the fate of the pool in the hands of the voters. I know the pool is popular and is well used when open. I also believe, based on the results of the May election last year, voters don’t like paying more than they have to.

So, I have no idea how I would vote if asked to choose whether to increase my taxes to keep the pool open. From what has been said publicly, the decision would add to the property tax bill paid by property owners in North Bend. Personally, I would prefer a sales tax, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.

The advantage of a sales tax, and there is none in Oregon right now, is everyone pays a little bit at a time, with no big chunks taken out at any one time. Plus, since the pool users include a large number of people from outside North Bend, any time they stopped for gas or to buy a drink while visiting the pool, they would pay a small portion of the tax.

But since that doesn’t seem to be an option, the city council will have to decide whether to ask voters to approve a tax levy to keep the pool open. My guess is the council will make that decision.

No one on the council seems to want to close the pool. Most have said very positive things about it. But the reality is North Bend is not in a situation where it can afford to lose hundreds of thousands each year to keep a pool open – even a very popular pool.

If this issue interests you, the council will be discussing levy options during a work session Monday. No decision will be made, but options will be presented. The meeting can be viewed online by following instructions on the city’s website.

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