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Jackson to move toward indoor pool referendum

Jackson to move toward indoor pool referendum

The numbers are in for what an indoor pool might cost to build and maintain in Jackson County, and commissioners are set to vote April 7 on a resolution to move forward with a related referendum question on the November ballot. If the resolution is approved, the next step would be a public hearing, which will likely be held June 2. 

According to a recently completed report from Asheville-based Clark Nexsen, construction and closing costs will total nearly $20 million, with a projected annual operating cost of $612,000. Paying down debt on a $20 million bond would require an additional 2.2 cents per $100 of property value on Jackson County’s existing 38-cent tax rate, and operational costs would require an additional 0.4 cents, for a total increase of 2.26 cents per $100. If enacted, such a tax hike would bring Jackson’s total tax rate to 40.26 cents per $100. 

Jackson County residents have long clamored for an indoor swimming pool, with 86.4 percent of 638 survey respondents in a 2013 recreation master plan update saying that a centrally located indoor swimming pool is “important” or “very important.” A follow-up survey in 2019 saw 93.7 percent of 1,709 people say they would support an indoor pool, with 68 percent saying they’d support such a project even if it meant raising taxes. 

Commissioners are still discussing exactly what language the referendum question should contain, though options are limited by law. The two things commissioners must decide are what dollar amount to request for the bond and what the stated purpose of the bond should be. The cost projection of $20 million includes roughly $2 million of cushion, but because the bond amount can’t be adjusted upward once the referendum passes, commissioners kicked around the idea of pushing it up to $21 or $22 million. 

Secondly, they must decide whether the question should state that the money is specifically for an aquatics facility or more generally for recreation facilities. 

Commissioners seemed to favor the more restrictive wording, though County Manager Don Adams pointed out the argument for a looser version. 

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“If needs popped up outside that, depending on what the need is, it could restrict you only to that aquatic center versus other needs on that campus,” he said. 

Plans call for an aquatics facility that would include separate competition and leisure pools. Voters will weigh in on the referendum question during the Nov. 3 General Election. If they vote yes, then commissioners will adopt a resolution to formally approve the election results and get to work on the necessary processes to issue debt. It’s expected that any associated tax increase would go into effect for the following fiscal year beginning July 2021. 

While no debt will be issued unless the referendum passes, getting the question to the ballot doesn’t come free. To date, $40,500 has been spent on studies and research to arrive at a master plan and projected cost. An additional $30,000 is requested to cover a bond application to the Local Government Commission, legal fees and voter marketing and education materials. There will also be additional costs for printing and coding at the Board of Elections. 

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