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Voters to decide on sales tax for Casselton pool

Casselton, N.D., city leaders for the second time this year are asking residents to support a new swimming pool facility through a ballot measure. Voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to raise the city sales tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent for 20 ...

Casselton, N.D., city leaders for the second time this year are asking residents to support a new swimming pool facility through a ballot measure.

Voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to raise the city sales tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent for 20 years to help pay for the estimated $1.7 million facility. The tax increase would generate about $50,000 per year.

The measure requires 60 percent voter approval.

In June, Casselton residents rejected a bonding measure to pay for the facility's cost through a property tax increase. If it had passed, the owner of a $100,000 home would have paid $200 more in taxes per year for two decades.

This time around, city leaders are taking a broader approach to raising money for the facility.

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The City Council and Park Board have pledged $250,000 for the project, said Stephen Bartholomay, Parks and Recreation Department director.

A pool committee is also searching for grant options, he said.

"(Voters) will feel a little better that we have money in the bank," Bartholomay said. "Hopefully, we can get that figure for a more manageable amount for the public to decide on.

"We're in uncharted waters in raising that money. Maybe by the spring of 2008 we would be ready to move forward with a new facility," he said.

Leaks and water clarity issues forced the city to close its 28-year-old pool in early July, Bartholomay said. It typically opens in early June and closes in mid- to late August.

Reopening the pool this summer would have cost $200,000 in repairs, he said.

"It wasn't the most popular move ... to close the pool," he said. "But it shouldn't have taken anyone by surprise. The water we put in the pool, we couldn't keep clear and safe. Basically, our old pool was worn out."

An average of 50 to 60 people - mostly kids younger than 12 and their accompanying grandparents - visited the pool each day this summer until it closed, Bartholomay said. The pool has attracted an average of 100 to 110 people per day in the past, he said.

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"The last three seasons the pool lost an average of $11,000 per year," he said. "Most swimming pools in North Dakota don't make money. Taking that loss year after year just wasn't cost-effective anymore."

Engineering estimates show that repairing the existing bath house and pool, which has two diving boards and a separate wading pool, would cost up to $350,000.

"The park district has felt for a couple of years now that repair of the existing pool is not the way to go," Bartholomay said.

The new facility would include a zero-depth entry pool, waterslide, diving board, bath house, locker rooms and administration area, he said.

Casselton Mayor Edward McConnell said the new facility's $1.6 million to $1.8 million price tag may be too expensive for his city of about 1,900 people. But it's important for Casselton to have an operating pool, he said.

"I don't know how it's going to be supported," McConnell said. "My feeling is that it's going to be close but that it will pass. A quality town should have a pool, and we're a quality town."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joe Whetham at (701) 241-5557

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