Hobson’s special pool district up for discussion

By: 
VICKY MCCRAY
Special to the News-Argus

Judith Basin County Commissioners Cody McDonald and Jim Moore were in Hobson last Wednesday for a public hearing addressing the Commission’s intent to create a special district to fund and maintain the Town of Hobson’s swimming pool. County Attorney Heather Perry joined them.
Hobson Mayor Loren Drivdahl, Town Clerk Bill Spratt and Hobson Town Council members Paulette Matlosz, Larry Denton and Ron Peevey were in attendance. Pool manager Nealy Campbell, former Hobson mayor Dale Longfellow and Judith River Senior Center cook Gary Durfey were also present.
Perry pointed out Wednesday’s meeting was a preliminary meeting, its purpose was to learn the community’s opinion on the commissioners’ adopting a resolution for a proposal that will be taken to the voters in an election. In other words, Wednesday’s public hearing was to determine whether or not the community would like to continue the special pool district – to “test the waters,” so to speak.
A special pool district is not new to Hobson School District #25 taxpayers. With 182 for the pool district and 121 against it, voters in the school district boundaries agreed to form the pool district in 2011, thus raising $30,000 annually for maintaining the pool. The duration of the district was set at five years; the five years expire at the end of this year.
Spratt provided those present with pool revenues and expenditures from 2012 through 2015. In the first three years, the revenue from the pool district provided wages, utilities, propane, chemicals and other supplies, training and licenses, and repairs and maintenance. In the last two years a loan payment was added to the expenses.
The pool required major reconstruction, the bill totaling $114,000. In addition to using funds from the pool district, a grant from the Central Montana Foundation and Katie Williams memorials, the Town borrowed money from the General Fund to complete this reconstruction; the Council then borrowed $54,000 from the Montana Board of Investments (Intercap loan) to reimburse all but $11,000 of the funds from the General Fund.
The last payment on the loan is scheduled for August 2029.
Drivdahl spoke as a parent, commenting on the money he spent for his two small children to swim when his family first moved to Hobson. He also spent money at the pool fundraiser, for many years an annual Hobson event for the purpose of running the pool. He thought by the time he was done, he had probably dumped about $300 into the pool.
Drivdahl owns two homes in Hobson and the tax he pays for the special pool district is much less than what he ever paid out for the fundraiser. He is hopeful the pool district can be put on a ballot and continued for another five years, although he is not against the Commission making it a permanent district. He understands should something happen and if the pool is closed permanently, the district is automatically defunct.
Moore wondered if the Council had ever received complaints on the tax. Drivdahl said no one has talked to him and passed Moore’s question to Campbell. She explained she has spoken with many people about the pool, asking them their thoughts about the pool tax. They have all told her they spent more money going to the pool fundraiser than they have paying the tax. She said no one has made negative remarks about the pool; instead, everyone has been happy with it and its improvements.
The pool services a large area, those from out of the area paying to swim. Campbell said 75 percent of the kids in swimming lessons this year were not from Hobson. The pool was also used to train lifeguards from Geraldine, Denton, Winifred, Lewistown and Hobson.
Campbell addressed a number of other issues required for pools, things such as fences and lights for the protection of people who trespass after the pool is closed. Drivdahl said if the state inspector tells the Town they need to fix something on the pool, she doesn’t care how much it costs; it needs to be taken care of.
Spratt’s handout also addressed future expenses for the pool: a sand filter, repainting pool bottom, pool heater and equipment and tarp storage room. The estimated cost for these items is as high as $32,000.
McDonald asked if anyone had any concerns about the continuation of the pool tax district.
Longfellow spoke up saying he doesn’t like the five-year term and would like to see the time limits extended – 10 years maybe. His thinking is if the voters decide not to continue paying the pool tax, all of the money already put into the pool will be for nothing.
McDonald did not think revisiting the issue in five years is a bad thing. He would, however, like to see the Council pay off the Intercap loan within the next five years, rather than carrying payments into 2029.
“It shouldn’t be that big of a deal to pay off $50,000 in five years,” he said, “when you’re bringing in $30,000 annually.”
Spratt spoke up, saying, “I can tell you it won’t be there. The cost of running the pool is over $40,000 a year, with propane, chemicals, salaries, etc.
“It would be hard to do in five years as far as I can see,” he added.
McDonald admitted Spratt was right.
Denton noted the need for the Council to be very clear in letting the voters know the tax is not new but only a continuation of the former tax district. He thinks the term limits should remain at five years. He wondered when the vote is planned.
Perry said Judith Basin County Election Administrator Mandy Kelly has recommended the vote be handled by mail ballot in the fall before the end of the calendar year. Mail ballot is less expensive. In answer from a question from McDonald, Perry said it is her understanding there will be no lag in the tax collection: the second half of 2016 won’t be taxed until the end of May 2017.
In a final comment, Peevey told the group he has four pieces of property in the Hobson School District. He has no children using the pool, but he is more than willing to pay the pool tax because the pool is a very good thing.
“And for my house it’s only $9 for a whole year,” Denton added. “How can I complain about $9 for a place where kids can go in the summer?”
Matlosz said she has spoken to several people whose taxes have increased because of the sewer and “are looking at pennies now and what is going to take our taxes down a bit.”
“When you’re looking at people with fixed incomes,” Matlosz said, “I think you are going to get some votes that say ‘This has got to stop somewhere,’ especially when you’re putting that much money into something that is only used for three months.”
Longfellow complimented the mayor, Council and Campbell on the job done on the pool.
“That pool really looks nice,” he said.
Drivdahl gave much of the credit to Peevey.
“Ron suitcased the whole job,” Drivdahl said, “and did a great job, making sure the concrete guys delivered, the electricians delivered and the engineering was incredible.”
The mayor told the commissioners he thinks the Council’s proposal to them is going to be close to what the original special pool district was. The commissioners will take the process to the next step. Voters are encouraged to watch for the next public hearing on this issue.

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