We may want an indoor pool, but we can’t afford one

If you subscribe to LighthouseNow Progress Bulletin, you may have seen my article about the Sept. 11 presentation to council by the Queens Community Aquatic Society (QCAS).

The group hopes to build a $12-13 million indoor swimming pool at Queens Place Emera Centre. It asked council for $4 million in construction funding and said it hopes to secure matching commitments from both the provincial and federal governments.

“This would obviously involve a tax increase,” QCAS president Celeste Johnston told council. “It isn’t going to happen any other way.”

Johnston said RQM could generate the $4 million by hiking property taxes four years in a row, by two cents for every $100 in assessed property value. However, these numbers “don’t crunch,” as Mayor David Dagley told me afterwards. In fact, they don’t crunch by a long shot.

The tax increases suggested by QCAS would likely generate in the neighbourhood of $1.8 million — less than half the amount required. So we’re talking about some serious and prolonged tax hikes just to build the pool. Ongoing operational funding could be another costly affair.

Johnston estimated the facility would have 1000 users and generate annual operational deficits of up to $185,000. She said QCAS hopes to cover these yearly shortfalls through private and corporate fundraising. That’s all well and good, but if fundraising falls short, taxpayers will be on the hook yet again.

Like most people, I would love to have an indoor pool in Queens. In fact, I supported the pool idea during my mayoral campaign. But the QCAS presentation to council has changed my thinking on this one. The pool project is simply too expensive, too risky and in some ways too elitist for my liking.

Indeed, in a county with so much poverty and so little affordable housing, should a multimillion-dollar pool really be our priority?

It’s worth noting, too, that the pool being proposed isn’t the pool people may be expecting. QCAS is planning a four-lane, 25-metre swimming facility with a shallow teaching and lounging pool, a large slide and a waterfall. Because six lanes are required for competitions, Johnston told council the facility would not be eligible to host swim meets.

We have an aging and shrinking population, our tax base is slowly eroding, and our property taxes (which just went up) are already prohibitively expensive to some current and prospective residents.

Do we really want to jump off the deep end on such a costly, risky project?