Middletown council votes to save community pool despite thousands in repair costs

Middletown City Council members voted Tuesday night to pay for repairs and open the community pool next year rather than close it forever.

County officials have in recent weeks been planning alternative recreational uses for the site, which underwent significant repairs about 10 years ago but has been closed for two years due to the pandemic.

The district assumed sole management of the pool in 2019 and operated it for a year, resulting in a $30,000 deficit. Previously, the bath was operated by a consortium that also included the municipality.

Pool supporters said they could work to reduce the annual deficit because they had only a single year of operating experience and the pool had not previously had such a large deficit. The pool manager also said she would help find grants and help with fundraisers.

However, opponents point out that the pool will require ongoing maintenance and absorb thousands of additional dollars in water costs in the future, as the district currently receives free water from the Middletown Water Joint Venture, but that agreement expires in two years.

It’s unclear how much future annual water bills would cost taxpayers, however, because a controversial deal with the privatized water company requires the county’s taxpayers to pay for a certain amount of water each year, whether they use it or not. The amount of water taxpayers are required to purchase each year is much higher than what residents are expected to use, so additional water that taxpayers would already be billed for is instead paid for by the municipality and used to fill the pool could be used.

The annual shortfall, possible increased water bills, and required repairs that could cost up to $80,000 spurred discussion of potentially closing the pool and converting the site to a splash pad, RV campground, or skateboard park instead .

The site must remain dedicated to recreation under an agreement with the state Department of Conservation and Nature, which awarded a $330,000 grant to repair the pool a decade ago.

However, these transformations would also carry price tags of varying heights.

Mayor Jim Curry was interested in taking a closer look at the idea of ​​an RV campground that could also include a miniature golf course and a kayak launch, according to a Facebook Live video he posted Sunday. He said the one-time cost of converting the park into something else makes more sense given the growing cost of the pool, whose memberships are used by 200 or fewer Middletown residents.

The pool sold additional memberships to outside residents and also allowed daily entry.

In the end, council members voted 4-3 to save the downtown pool, which is one of two pools in the district. The other pool, a swim club operated by a nonprofit, is located downtown and requires annual membership fees totaling $265 for a family pass.

The community pool had a daily rate of $6 per person when it was last open.

Council members also voted 4-3 to limit repair costs to less than $80,000. The council approved funding for pool repairs last year, reallocating money that would have cost the pool to open last year, which was already included in the budget.

Council President Ian Reddinger had circulated an additional motion that could have been tabled Tuesday night to hire an independent contractor to analyze the pool operations and finances and other possible uses of the site in more detail in the future, but no one chose to submit this application.

This suggests the council appears to be “all in” to keep the pool open at least for the near future, as there would be no point in completing repairs just to close the pool, Reddinger said.

“I can’t imagine spending $80,000 to open the pool for a year,” he said.

After the council approved motions to open the pool Tuesday night, some gallery residents applauded. Several residents showed up to speak in favor of keeping the pool open, saying it was important to residents without transportation to go to the pool.

However, the mayor conducted a poll on his Facebook page that showed nearly 250 people voted against preserving the pool. Neither of them showed up for Tuesday night’s meeting to share those thoughts.

Council members Reddinger, Angela Lloyd, Dawn Krull and Ellen Willenbecher voted to open the pool. Members Scott Sites, Richard Kluskiewicz and Jenny Miller voted against.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include information about Middletown Water’s joint venture agreement.

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Mike Hunter

Mike is the owner of the local pool shop. He's been in the business for over 20 years and knows everything there is to know about pools. He's always happy to help his customers with whatever they need, whether it's advice on pool maintenance or choosing the right chemicals. He's also a bit of a pool expert, and is always happy to share his knowledge with anyone who's interested.

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