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2-8-17

Talk of new pool is making a splash
Platte City in information gathering stage

by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Landmark reporter

Platte City Parks and Recreation Board members continue to show interest in building a new city swimming pool.

Although so far, such interest is limited to information gathering.

City Administrator D.J. Gehrt attended the Monday night park board meeting at the request of members. He offered insights from city staff perspective but added there's no money to be used for pool construction at present.

Instead, he urged board members to continue researching desires of potential users and available pool options.

“Now's the time to do our planning,” he said.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Gehrt added that city officials are currently paying off debt and as those debts are paid, some funds for pool construction could become available. The parks board has considered construction of a new pool since the closing of the city's 50-year-old pool in 2015.

At the meeting, Gehrt reminded members that the cost of a new pool ranges from about $2 million to $5 million. The board first learned of the potential costs last spring during a presentation from a pool design firm. Gehrt explained why there are no available construction funds, stating that the city collects about $700,000 per year in property taxes, half of which is used to pay off debt and the rest is operating revenue. (Much of the city's operating costs are tied up in running the police department, Gehrt explained in an interview.)

In addition, property tax revenues currently are not earmarked for parks and recreation use. Instead, parks facilities are operated and maintained using a parks sales tax and fees paid by parks users, he said.

Gehrt prefaced his remarks by informing board members that city staff has used the city's limited funds to improve infrastructure, including replacing and updating utilities and streets in the past few years. He said such improvements have been at the expense of city amenities, including parks and recreation updates.

Gehrt added that the city's next greatest need is for a police building to house the department, which currently is in a rented temporary space at 355 Main Street.The temporary site is too small for long-term use by the department's 11 full-time and one civilian employee. The department also includes several reservists and part-time officers.

Gehrt also suggested the park board continue planning by requesting the city survey nearby residents who live outside of Platte City to determine how many of those residents would use a Platte City-operated pool.

“We have to make sure people using our facilities are paying their fair share,” he said.

A 2015 city survey of Platte City residents revealed that about 46 percent rated a city pool as very important. However, only about 38 percent were willing to pay higher taxes for a pool, the survey revealed.

He said any major Platte City capital improvements, such as a pool, would be so costly that it would require voter approval in the form of a tax increase, but added that there's no existing plan for such an increase. Instead, city officials are concentrating on repaying general obligation bond debt, which will be retired in increments beginning in 2018 and continuing to 2021, 2023 and 2025.

“There is no intention of acquiring more debt until this debt is paid off,” Gehrt said.

Although other parks and recreation facilities, such as parks and a community center, were listed on the parks board agenda, discussion was limited to a pool. When asked about the possibility of using the city's recent purchase of Rising Star Elementary for a community center or other such city facility, Gehrt said the costs of renovation would be more than the cost of building a new center. He said the city purchased the former elementary school, which is located near the present Civic Center, for the land on which it rests.