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Algonac takes next step in quest for a new pool

Photo courtesy of bluewater.org Due to severe water loss, the Algonac City Pool was closed in July, 2020.

Agrees to receive $300,000 state grant

By Barb Pert Templeton

The Algonac City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution accepting a $300,000 grant from the state for a new city pool despite half the council objecting to the facilities potential $1.7 million price tag.

During a lengthy discussion, council members Ray Martin, Corey Blair and Cathy Harris balked at the idea of a $1.7 million dollar facility instead suggesting things be scaled back. 

“I’m concerned about using the $1.4 million out of our fund balance, that concerns me and that’s where I sit,” offered Councilman Ray Martin

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“I’m for the pools if it’s financially and fiscally smart for this community,” Blair said. “I’m for the pool if it’s fiscally sound and financially smart.”

Council member Cathy Harris said she agreed with Councilmen Martin and Blair that it’s a huge expenditure for a pool. She would like to see a scaled back version so it doesn’t cost $1.7 million to put it in and put a drain on the city’s funds.

Mayor Terry Stoneburner, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Bembas and Councilmen Jake Starbek and Rocky Gillis spoke in favor of the pool plan. They encouraged the full council to vote in favor of the state grant so the funds wouldn’t be lost. 

“If we were to say no today, we’re losing that $300,000 grant from the state,” Councilman Rocky Gillis said. 

“If you vote no on it now, you will not get money again for a pool from the (state),” agreed City Manager Denice Gerstenberg said. 

The council adopted a Michigan National Resources Trust Fund Development project agreement TF21-0147 for the community outdoor swimming pool renovation and adopted resolution #2022-09 accepting the terms of the agreement.

Photo courtesy of City of Algonac/Youtube
Members of the Algonac City Council held a lengthy discussion about possible costs for renovating the city pool at a meeting on Aug. 15.

Background on grant money 

In April 2021 the City of Algonac applied for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund the MNRTF Grant offered through the Michigan DNR. The city was then approved by the MNRTF Board of Trustees and the State of MI to receive the maximum allowable grant amount of $300,000 for the outdoor swimming pool at Lions Field.

The proposed new pool is the same size at the existing pool. Proposed amenities include swimming lanes, a deep end, heated pool water, new fencing, new pool equipment building, new ramps. decks and rails. The original 187-thousand-gallon pool was built in 1957 the new pool estimated construction cost is $1.7 million. 

The city received a project agreement and resolution from the Michigan DNR and if the council approved it the next step is to submit all plans to the DNR for review and approval. Algonac cannot seek bids for the job until the state okays the plans.

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Bembas then made a motion to approve the agreement with the state for the funding. His motion was supported by Councilman Rocky Gillis.

Councilmen concerned about price tag

During a council discussion on the issue Martin said he feels like he’s caught up in and ‘all or nothing situation.’  He said he doesn’t think there’s been an attempt at a scaled back option for the renovation and if the plan doesn’t pass, where is the city headed?

“The pool is at most a three-month operation and has been operating at a deficit of $40,000 per year for the last three years of operation; figuring into the cost that would be expended,” Martin said.

Overall, Martin wondered how the city would address any type of financial emergency that might come up. 

Blair said Martin’s points were valid and he concurred on many of them. He said many people utilize the pool and it’s been around forever but at the costs of $7 or $8 per person to use the pool for a year doesn’t recoup the actual cost.

“We need a little more discussion before we commit to $1.4 million out of our fund and I agree with Ray that if an emergency comes up what is our (plan) for that?” Blair said.

Gillis wondered if there’s any repercussions should the city decide that they can’t afford to take the grant from the state and redo the pool.

Gerstenberg said the grant package states that an agreement can be cancelled upon 30 days of written notice. 

Councilman Jake Skarbek asked if the state can take the grant money back if they don’t like a possible second scaled back version of the pool and Gerstenberg said yes, that’s possible. 

“They could say no to the scaling back but typically they do not,” Gerstenberg said. “They want to see you build a facility just as bad as you do and especially under these market conditions, they have to be flexible. So, they want to work with you and they want to see the money spent.”

Pool important to community

Michael Bembas said he feels the pool is very important to the city of Algonac and its citizens.

“We have no recreation department, this pool is our recreation department,” Bembas said. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again not everybody gets to own a boat, not everybody can drive to Florida for vacation, for many people in town this is their vacation.”

Noting the city’s bank account currently has nearly $2.5 million dollars and knowing the city’s tax base is growing more than any other surrounding community, the city can more than cover the cost, Bembas said.

“It would be my hope that this council could look to the future and see that this is very affordable,” Bembas said. “Having a scaled down pool is like buying a car with no options and once you buy a car with manual transmission, you’re stuck with it. If you want to do it, do it – go big or go home.”

He even stated that if the council can’t find the way to spend the money on a good project like the pool, the excessive funds should be returned to the citizens in the form of a tax break.

“We lost money on that pool because it was leaking water like a sieve, if it’s new they aren’t going to lose water and there’s no recreation department in the United States that makes money on a pool,” Bembas said. “But it is beneficial to all people of all ages, it’s heated and it’s walk in and the senior citizens that can’t use the pool now will be able too and it will be a lot easier.”

Stoneburner said it’s important to remember that having the pool is a quality-of-life issue. Many senior citizens have approached her stating they can’t wait for the pool to open and she also puts a lot of stock in swimming lessons for everybody. 

“We’re not making money in our parks and they cost us money, it’s quality of life,” Stoneburner said.

Skarbek said he’s in favor of the pool simply because there’s not a lot for kids growing up in the city to do beyond the lake. 

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