NORTH PERTH – When North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg decided to share his concept for covering the operating costs for an indoor pool, he emphasized that this was not a plan endorsed by council, just something he wanted to present to see if the idea would float or sink in the community.
“This community has expressed over and over again an interest in having an indoor pool – a pool that can be used year-round,” he said. “The challenge is that when you look at rules of thumb around whether an indoor pool could be viable there is a general sense out there that you need a population or a catchment of 50,000 to 60,000 people to make an indoor pool a cost-neutral endeavour.”
North Perth has nowhere near that population and Kasenberg pointed out that Wingham invests a lot of taxpayer money in its pool every year. Net investment for the pool in Wingham by the taxpayers of North Huron, after receiving revenues of $191,840 from passes, classes and rentals, was budgeted at approximately $320,000 in 2020.
The Elmira pool appears to have at least a break-even financial model for the taxpayers of the Township of Woolwich. Operating costs are offset by substantial revenues coming in through a mixture of classes, public swim events, and pool rentals.
“So these things can be costly and many of these communities aren’t shy about questioning whether they should have done it,” said Kasenberg.
“They know that it’s a cost so we have to weigh that and if we were to ask the taxpayers to absorb the annual operating cost of a pool that’s roughly a four to five per cent – that’s a big hike that people won’t be too happy with just for that one purpose.”
So he said he took a step back and looked at the situation.
“It is on the books for a rebuild of the Listowel outdoor pool in 2022 or 2023 because our outdoor pool has come to the end of its realistic functional life,” said Kasenberg. “I can’t escape the fact that I continue to have conversations with people who are saying they don’t want another outdoor pool – they want a pool all year round.”
Kasenberg said when he mentions the Wingham and Elmira pools for winter swims he isn’t met with popular appeal.
“People ask why they are being asked to brave the highways in the middle of winter to go swimming,” he said. “So let’s be practical and let’s try to create some alternatives. I’ve talked about various alternatives with people in the community and with staff who are interested but recognize the challenges of having an indoor pool.”
Kasenberg believes the only way to further dialogue regarding an indoor pool is to invite supporters to make a real commitment.
“Do they want it or don’t they?” he asked. “If they do they will sign up in sufficient numbers for memberships that will cover the complete operating costs of the facility.”
That would still leave the municipality with a campaign to cover the capital cost. The estimated cost of a purpose-built indoor poor in Listowel is $13 to $15 million. In Kasenberg’s concept, residents, through fundraising efforts, will procure 90 per cent of the capital funds and council will be invited to contribute $2.3 million from capital budget funds, possibly spread over two budget years.
“This community is pretty decent at capital fundraising and probably it will take a committee of citizens some time to raise the money to afford to build an indoor pool but I think it’s within the realm of possibilities within the next five years for that to happen,” he said.
Kasenberg’s proposal for covering operating costs is to have 4,650 individuals sign up for a non-revocable $100 per year membership for seven years. His concept was developed with assumed annual operating costs of $450,000 for staff, supplies, maintenance, insurance, utilities and municipal services.
“It’s a firm commitment,” he said. “You are going to pledge and your bank account is going to be dinged every year for that so that we can pay the cost of this pool. If people want it enough. They’ll act.”
Kasenberg wants to put this idea into the public domain and see if it sinks or swims.
“People may think it’s horrible – I don’t know,” he said. “I’m setting a framework for discussion. I think we need more of this. I think that we need to create an environment where any citizen who has a great idea can jot it down and create a brief and say maybe this should be considered in our community.”
He is throwing this idea out as an example even though he has some responsibility officially.
“I’m an elected official but I want to see the unleashing of ideas so part of this is – let’s have counter-proposals, let’s have other people’s ideas about how and if an indoor pool is viable and maybe there is something better out there but let’s get the discussion started,” he said. “This is part of my passion for our community, to create a network of idea generators and idea generation that allows us to consider new possibilities and to enrich our lives through that.”
Kasenberg suggested that council and the municipal government may need to be more conscious about creating the platforms that allow people to bring their best ideas forward and to have them aired and considered.
“Not just the mayor putting something into the public space, I’d rather not be alone here in injecting new ideas into the public space and floating them for improvement, for discussion, for debate,” said Kasenberg. “Look at the Agricultural Science Centre. The Children’s Museum idea which was the underlying kernel came from someone in the community who was passionate and spoke to it with many people and brought forward a presentation and thought it through. Here we are now. We have something a little firmer in terms of an idea because it has been evolved by public contribution – that’s the kind of community I want to live in.”
A common argument Kasenberg hears from people asking for the build of a new indoor pool is that North Perth absorbs significant financial losses at three arenas without hesitation – and that the number of citizens who would use ice at the arenas during their operating season is likely lower than the numbers who would use an indoor pool year-round.
“At this point, council is aware of a plan to engage a consultant to be thinking about pools but the understanding from council is that the primary discussion point will be a new outdoor pool for Listowel,” he said. “To me, time for us to consider the other possibility which is so often expressed as a desire to me by people in our community.”
Kasenberg said when he looks back on his time knocking on doors while campaigning in 2018 the No. 1 item discussed was traffic and roads.
“No. 2 was an indoor pool,” he said. “No. 3 was the dog park. So I can honestly say in listening to people that I’m working to some degree on all of those agendas.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner