Pool vote is now in doubt

A mere two weeks after the Louisa County Board of Supervisors said they would ask voters whether they want to enclose a swimming pool for year-round use, members decided on May 4 to have a committee study the issue.

While it’s still possible the board could put a referendum on November’s ballot, the purpose of the committee is to find out what features voters would like the pool to have. Collecting that information may be difficult given the fact the public is not currently able to attend meetings in person.

Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District), who protested the board’s decision at the April 20 meeting to remove the project from the fiscal year 2021 budget, noted that members voted last fall to focus on the roughly $1 million pool project rather than more expensive alternatives such as a new, freestanding aquatic center. 

But at the April meeting, the board directed Assistant County Administrator Jeff Ferrel to present  those alternatives, which are priced between $6 and $10 million. 

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry District) proposed forming the committee. It would survey residents to determine if people want to spend $1 million on a pool enclosure now or prefer a multi-year plan for a larger pool building with more features. 

But that puts the county on a tight timeline, since a referendum must be approved by a Louisa Circuit Court judge within 81 days of an election. The referendum language must be submitted to the court by early July, said Helen Phillips, the county attorney.

“A referendum requires public input,” Barnes said. “Right now, with COVID-19, the citizen input can’t happen.”

Barnes has criticized the $1 million plan, saying there won’t be enough room for fans to sit in the bleachers during Louisa County High School swim meets. The pool enclosure would be hemmed in between the existing changing room building and a maintenance structure, limiting its size to 100 spectators. But Ferrel and Gentry said room for another 125 seats could be added for an additional $240,000.

With a new, larger pool building, the county could add features such as additional lanes; more restrooms, locker rooms and seating; and water slides, Ferrel said. He developed the cost projections with help from a consultant who has worked on similar facilities.

During this week’s meeting, Gentry submitted 42 letters backing the pool enclosure to be included in the board’s minutes. The Friends of Louisa County Aquatics, a grassroots group that has lobbied for several years to fund the project, said it has collected more than 2,200 signed declarations in support and $18,600 in pledges and contributions.

The Louisa County Parks and Recreation Commission, whose members are board-appointed, also reviewed options for year-round pool access and felt the $1 million pool enclosure cost was reasonable, Gentry said.

“They dwelled on what could be sold to the public,” he said. [The Friends of Louisa County Aquatics] came to the commission twice to ask us what we wanted. They took it from there to start getting input from the public.” The Friends then encouraged people to attend meetings in 2018 about revising the county’s comprehensive plan to state their support for the pool enclosure. 

Gentry said he did not favor sending the pool issue to the voters, in part because they already did so in 1995. The referendum at that time asked residents to support building what became the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center and more athletic facilities elsewhere in the county, Barnes said. Architectural renderings for the pool enclosure were drawn up in 2004 when the rest of the Betty Queen Center was planned, but the enclosure was never built because of a funding shortfall.

“The public has spoken on this, as far as I’m concerned,” Gentry said.

While Gentry favors restoring the pool enclosure to the annual budget’s capital improvement plan, Supervisor Eric Purcell (Louisa District) said that creates the potential for delays. Given the enormous spending on building projects the county envisions over the next few years, including a middle school expansion and a new high school career and technical education center, the pool project could easily be put on the back burner year after year.

Purcell, Barnes, Duane Adams (Mineral District) and Toni Williams (Jackson District) voted on April 20 to remove the pool enclosure from the budget and to have voters decide the matter via a referendum. Board Chairman Bob Babyok (Green Springs District), Gentry and Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road) were opposed, though Barlow said he does not support the pool project.

Babyok said that he supports creating a committee to further study the pool issue, “rather than try to cover this up or seek an easy way out for the sake of expediency.”

The members of the committee have not yet been appointed. 

Budget appropriation

The board voted 7-0 to appropriate money for the fiscal year 2021 operations and capital improvement budget. The vote did not include $3.6 million in capital projects that are part of the adopted budget approved on April 20, including $800,000 to build New Bridge Rescue Station.

Also withheld from appropriation was $2.2 million in salary increases for county government and Louisa County Public Schools employees, $110,000 in additional funds for substitute teachers and $50,000 to help implement an Army ROTC program at the high school.

On the revenue side, county Finance Director Wanda Colvin said her revised budget shows a $159,000 loss in meals tax and a $9,500 loss in transient occupancy tax over the six-month period that starts July 1. The estimate is based on the fact restaurant dining rooms have been closed since late March and few people are traveling. The county also expects a $290,000 reduction in parks and recreation revenues.

The tax figures are just guesses at this point until more firm information about tax revenue is available, she said.

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