PAOLA — Paola city officials have been diving into all sorts of budget numbers during the past several weeks, but one issue keeps rising to the surface.
The Paola Family Pool in Wallace Park and its dwindling reserve fund once again dominated the budget discussion during the July Paola City Council meeting.
In 1996, Paola voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the construction and operation of the pool and generate revenue to establish a pool reserve fund. By the time the 10-year sales tax first came up for renewal in 2005, that reserve fund had grown to a sizable amount, so city leaders focused on needed improvements to city buildings, as well as streets and parking lots.
Voters supported the tax once again, and it was renewed in 2005 to fund the construction and renovation of four city buildings — the Paola Justice Center, Paola Community Center, Paola City Hall and Paola Free Library.
All revenue that was collected above and beyond what was allotted for the projects went toward improving city streets and parking lots.
The tax’s official renewal period was from 2006 to 2021, as it was approved by voters as a 15-year renewal. If it is renewed again in November, the new term will begin once the existing tax expires in 2021.
City officials are hopeful the tax can once again be renewed for the pool, parks and streets. Paola City Manager Jay Wieland previously has said the swimming pool is in need of “major renovations and substantial upgrades” that he estimates will cost between $3.4 and $3.8 million.
Paola City Clerk Dan Droste informed the council members, during their July meeting, just how important the sales tax renewal is for the pool. He said there is only $186,000 left in the reserve fund, and the pool has an annual operational cost of about $150,000.
Droste said the issue has been compounded by a wet spring that caused pool attendance numbers to take a hit. In fact, all pool-related revenues are down, including concession stand sales.
The pool fund balances were actually going to be negative in the 2020 budget before a transfer was made, but even now, the reserve fund is projected to only be a positive $11,000.
Droste said that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, especially if there is a mechanical failure at the pool.
“$11,000 doesn’t go far when it comes to buying pumps,” Droste said.
The council members also discussed the possibility of increasing fees for things such as admission and party rentals, but Droste said the fees and concession revenue only account for about 26 percent of the pool budget, so increases wouldn’t make a big impact.
He added that in 2021, when the existing sales tax expires, the pool reserve fund is estimated to have a shortfall of about $100,000.
“That’s how critical this renewal of the sales tax is to the pool,” Droste said. “We just ran out of money.”
City officials have not yet decided what the ballot wording will be when they ask voters to renew the half-cent sales tax in November. If approved, the tax is estimated to generate about $11.5 million over its 15-year history.
The council members could not agree on an exact breakdown, but they did agree that a majority of the sales tax should be allocated to the pool, with some revenue also allocated to street and park improvements.
Park improvements in general have been a recent focus for the council, and there has been some discussion about using a portion of the half-cent sales tax revenue, if it’s renewed, to make improvements to the city-owned ballfields at Wallace Park, or help build a dog park at Lake Miola or Wallace Park, or help build a disc golf course somewhere in the city.
The council members also realize that the pool needs to be updated. An official list of planned pool upgrades has not yet been finalized, but Wieland previously has said city officials have been meeting with representatives of the Paola-based Splashtacular to discuss ideas for a possible splash park addition, new picnic area and piping upgrades, among other things.
The city needs to submit the ballot wording for the proposed half-cent sales tax renewal to the County Clerk’s Office by Sept. 1 to get it included on the Nov. 5 ballot.
If it fails, city officials said the mill levy would likely have to increase in order to continue to fund the operation of the pool. The mill levy is the rate in which property taxes are collected.