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Our View: Public pools need work

Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The park districts in both DeKalb and Sycamore see a need to repair or replace their public pools. If they were to team up and combine their resources, it seems they could do something bigger, better, and hopefully cheaper than what they might build individually.

What’s needed is a location somewhere centrally located between the two cities, with room for a modern complex that not only would serve their residents, but might also attract swimmers from elsewhere.

Before such a plan can get off the ground, there are questions – of fairness, finance, and practicality – that must be settled.

First off: How to divide the cost. The DeKalb Park District serves a population roughly twice that of the Sycamore Park District. Perhaps the most equitable funding formula would be requiring both districts to pay based on their population, so that each person in the Sycamore and DeKalb districts theoretically contributes the same amount.

Second: Where would the money come from? Ballot initiatives to allow the governments to borrow money might be a tough sell. Voters in DeKalb roundly rejected a borrowing plan for a new pool in 2010, with more than 70 percent opposed.

Economic times were different then, of course. But it can be tough to win passage of one referendum, let alone two in the same election cycle. And if voters in one district say yes while those in the other vote no, what happens then?

Third: Running a jointly operated pool might require a separate commission, created by intergovernmental agreement.

There also would have to be a formula created for covering operating costs – assuming that the pool won’t pay for itself – something that keeps people in DeKalb from feeling as though those from Sycamore are freeloaders, while those from Sycamore don’t feel they are subsidizing their neighbors from DeKalb.  

And if there were to be clashes between members of the park boards, operation of the pool could suffer.

Fourth: Where would a new pool be built? Although it might seem getting ahead of things, if people in one town or another feel as though the site is not convenient for them, they might be less inclined to want to pay anything more in taxes to build it. It would have to be a location with ample room for parking – almost everyone will be driving there. No matter where a pool is located, there will probably be some people for whom it is a longer drive than they would like.

It’s probably a good thing that there won’t be another election in Illinois until March 2014 – it will take months for the two districts to come up with a workable plan for cooperation and sell it to the public, if a referendum is indeed the way they choose to go.

This idea seems worthy of exploring, but it will hardly be as simple as it might seem.

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