MILLEDGEVILLE — Two years ago Baldwin County Commissioners engaged in a lengthy debate regarding the future of the public swimming pool at Walter B. Williams Park. Since then that pool has remained dormant, the result of neglect and repairs that went unheeded.
Tuesday evening the door for new discussion on the public swimming pool was re-opened. However, if this conversation is ever truly intended to be of value to the recreation department and to the community, a sound assessment of dollars and sense is needed. The county should take this opportunity to compile concrete figures on the true cost of making the necessary repairs and upgrades and the current swimming pool and assess the financials for a brand new water park and see once and for all if either of these options is truly possible. Only then will the county and the community be able to assess which is the best option and make a decision one way or another.
Either option — a new pool or repairs to the existing one — must be self-sustaining or it should not be considered. Otherwise it becomes an additional drain on taxpayers. If these financial assessments do not include a means by which the pool can feasibly be maintained — with proper upkeep and staffing — then it’s not the right answer for Baldwin County.
If the current pool’s years of disrepair is any indication as to how this new expensive water park will be kept up, then the community — and especially the commissioners themselves — must question how any pool, new or newly repaired, will be maintained before tax monies are to be invested in such an expansive project.
Tight budgets have made it difficult enough to maintain the current recreation facilities, and pouring more dollars into another facility that can’t be maintained is not a sound investment.
If the county cannot find a means through which to fund either of these options, then it's time to move beyond this conversation and seek alternatives.
At each point when county commissioners have publicly discussed the public pool and its fate, the conversation has turned to the costs. Two years ago, the board discussed the possibility of constructing a new water park and other recreation upgrades through 1-cent sales tax dollars. However, the conversation dwindled, the elected resulted in turnover on the board, and the cost estimates haven’t been revisited publicly since in any open meetings.
It’s time to revisit these estimates and make a determination as to whether or not this is ever going to be a course of action.
When the conversation was initially ignited back in 2012, several community members spoke on the need for maintaining the pool, but there has been no public conversation targeted specifically to the issue and these concerns; neither have the cost projections. Perhaps holding a forum specifically on the needs of the recreation department and the public pool to garner community input is an option.
This issue, just as with every other concern involving taxpayer dollars, needs a clear cost assessment.
The county can’t make a decision on the community pool without the numbers and local taxpayers need a clear assessment of what the real options are once and for all. If the end result is that numbers don’t add up then it doesn’t make sense for Baldwin County.