Aim for the middle

What began as a plan to replace Medford's aging swimming pools with a water recreation facility that would pay for itself from construction through operation has now become a potential $21.7 million bond issue. City Council members say they want to poll city residents to gauge the likelihood of passing a property tax increase before putting anything on the ballot.

That's a prudent move, but the polling should include more options than appear to be on the table now.

The city's Parks and Recreation Committee and a seven-member steering committee both are recommending the highest-priced option, which would build a water park at Bear Creek Park, a 50-meter competition pool at Jackson Park and new BMX and dog parks. The $21.7 million price tag would cost the owner of a house assessed at $250,000 about $8.14 a month.

A second option would replace Jackson Pool with a seasonal pool rather than a covered competition pool and add a 25-meter pool at Bear Creek Park equipped with a seasonal cover. The price of that option is only slightly lower at $20.1 million, or $7.58 a month for the owner of a home assessed at $250,000.

The third option — replacing Jackson and Hawthorne pools with similar facilities — drops the price to $5.5 million and the monthly property owner cost to $2.06 a month.

What's needed, before the city polls its residents on what they would be willing to pay for, is an option somewhere in the middle.

As city officials note, the lowest-cost option would not increase the capacity of the city's pools, something the city needs to do. Children are routinely turned away now at Jackson Pool on busy summer days.

A mid-priced option might include a less than competition-sized replacement for Jackson Pool. Competitive swimmers in the valley would love to have a 50-meter facility, but that simply may not be possible given the current economic climate. There is also no reason why Medford should take on the entire responsibility of filling the needs of swim teams across the county.

Clearly something needs to be done. Jackson and Hawthorne are past the end of their useful lives, and cost the city $250,000 a year to maintain. Hawthorne leaks thousands of gallons of water a day, and may not even open this year.

But asking city residents to take on another bond levy is a tall order. Local residents approved a library bond issue and $189 million in Medford School District construction bonds in recent years; they likely would balk at a new request.

We supported the idea of an aquatics facility when it was first proposed, but only on the condition that admission fees would cover the cost of construction. Officials now say admissions would cover only operating costs. That just won't fly with voters, or with us.

By all means, poll Medford residents. But make sure the survey is detailed enough to generate a clear picture of what voters might support. That should include a range of options, not just bare-bones replacement and top-of-the-line enhancements.

Share This Story