Understanding the De Pere pool referendum
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Those who read the 184-word City of De Pere referendum to increase the annual levy limit up to $900,000 for two aquatic facilities might be confused, and they wouldn’t be alone.
Readers have mentioned that the wording of the referendum question regarding city swimming pools that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot makes it hard to understand what they’ll be voting on.
The referendum question on the ballot will read as follows:
“Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of De Pere for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year, 2019, is limited to 1.98 percent which results in a levy of $12,442,502.
Shall the City of De Pere be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year, 2019, and on an ongoing basis, for improving and transforming the pools located at VFW Park and at Legion Park into aquatic facilities and for operating those aquatic facilities, by a total of $900,000, which results in a levy of $13,342,502?
A ‘YES’ vote allows the Common Council to exceed the State imposed levy limits for improving and transforming the pools located at VFW Park and at Legion Park into aquatic facilities and for operating those aquatic facilities.
A ‘NO’ vote does not allow the Common Council to exceed the State imposed levy limits for improving and transforming the pools located at VFW Park and at Legion Park into aquatic facilities and for operating those aquatic facilities.”
In plain English, it’s asking property owners if they’ll pay an extra $900,000 a year to 1. transform the VFW pool on the west side and the Legion pool on the east side into separate aquatic facilities, and 2. maintain the aquatic facilities in subsequent years.
Either way people vote, they are voting on two facilities; there’s no voting for one facility over the other.
People can vote for two aquatic centers or no aquatic centers.
Of note is the wording of “improving and transforming the pools.”
This means that the current pools wouldn’t just be fixed or rebuilt to their previous condition but updated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
So “improving and transforming” means that a new aquatic facility of some sort would be built at each site to comply with those mandates.
Adding an extra $900,000 a year to the city’s expenditures would mean an extra $46 a year for someone who owns a home valued at $100,000; $92 for a home valued at $200,000, etc.
It increases the property tax rate from $6.38 per $1,000 to $6.84 per $1,000 in assessed value, a rise of 7.21 percent.
The referendum is called a binding referendum, rather than an advisory referendum.
That means that if it passes, it gives the Common Council the authority to go forward with the projects and to increase the tax levy by $900,000 per year.
It’s not an advisory referendum, which means it’s optional.
At one point, the idea of closing Legion Pool and building one big aquatic center at the VFW pool was bandied about.
Many parents complained about the potential loss of Legion Pool on the east side and having to transport their kids over the bridge.
The Common Council rescinded that decision, so closing one pool is no longer on the table.
The referendum asks to exceed its property tax levy by $900,000 per year for an indefinite number of years.
“There’s no sunset on that,” Mayor Mike Walsh said.
That’s because a binding referendum can ask to exceed the limit for one year or exceed the limit on an ongoing basis.
The city can’t limit it to a certain number of years.
“The $900,000 would be for building the pool, however long it would take to pay it off, and the subsequent years, up to $900,000 could be operational costs,” for two aquatic centers, Walsh said.
Since the aquatic centers haven’t been designed yet, it’s unclear how much they would actually cost to build or operate.
“It’s difficult to break down the costs because we don’t know what would be built yet,” Walsh said. “The odds are that it would be a better payback due to the newness of the pool and the infrastructure, but we don’t know what the revenue of the pool would be either, from tickets or concessions.”
Both aquatic centers would be outdoors, though. The current Legion and VFW pools are outdoor pools with diving boards, and an aquatic center would have additional amenities such as slides or whatever the city decides, he said.
City officials are waiting for the people to speak via the referendum before spending public money on architects, engineers and other professionals to create the designs and blueprints for the two aquatic centers that would better delineate the costs.
But trying to guess by comparing costs with an existing city aquatic center, such as Joannes Family Aquatic Center in Green Bay, wouldn’t be accurate, because the amenities offered would differ, Walsh said.