The Grant County Court requested more diversity on a steering committee studying options for a future pool in John Day at their May 22 meeting. They also asked for more representation by communities outside of John Day.
This was the first time discussion about the pool’s future was formally brought to the court. John Day City Manager Nick Green updated the court on the pool’s history and problems, the state’s interest in acquiring park land around the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, including Gleason Pool, and efforts by the city to develop options for a replacement pool.
Public swimming pools don’t last a hundred years, Green said, and sale of the aging pool would provide needed money toward construction of a new pool. No decision has been reached with the state regarding the sale, he noted.
The city of John Day, which owns the pool, hired consultants and acquired land to replace the city park land if it’s sold to the state, Green explained. A site at the northwest corner of the Seventh Street Complex has been chosen as a location for a new pool, and the city is applying for two planning grants to further develop options for a new pool.
Pools have gotten very expensive, Green said, and the city didn’t want to get overextended financially and be forced to close the pool in the future. The city does not have a sufficient tax base to build and operate a new pool, so Green proposed that the county court establish a county service district to fund building and operating a new pool.
The new service district should not extend countywide as that would be unfair to distant communities, Green said. Residents of the new district would vote in a bond election to pay for construction of a new pool, he said.
Green told the Eagle that a county service district can be created by the county court without a popular vote because it does not create a permanent tax base. Once the district’s boundaries are established, the district board can refer ballot measures to its residents for local option taxes and capital improvement bonds to build and finance operations of a pool.
Commissioner Jim Hamsher noted that the number of registered voters in John Day and Canyon City far outnumber voters in Prairie City and Mt. Vernon and could sway votes once the district is created.
Judge Scott Myers questioned how diverse the steering committee is and whether it only included people in favor of a new swimming pool. Noting that people in favor of a new pool are the most vocal, he said he wanted to see more unbiased and impartial people on the committee.
Hamsher said he wanted representatives on the committee from other communities, even if that means increasing the size of the committee. Green suggested adding representatives from Canyon City, Seneca, Prairie City and Mt. Vernon, but Myers went further, suggesting Monument, Long Creek, Dayville and even Kimberly be represented.
Hamsher said he’s not opposed to the idea of a new pool, but he noted that if the steering committee did not represent all communities, it will get voted down.
Myers described his family’s ties to the current pool and said he was conflicted on how to proceed with a new pool. People who don’t want a pool shouldn’t have to pay for it, he said.
Lisa Weigum, who sits on the steering committee and the board of the John Day-Canyon City Parks & Recreation District, which currently operates Gleason Pool, said the committee planned to speak to other communities but hadn’t gotten that far yet. The idea of establishing a service district with a 15-mile radius had not yet been decided, she added.
The steering committee represents five large taxing jurisdictions because financing a new pool could affect their tax revenue, Green said. They include Blue Mountain Hospital District, Grant School District 3, the Parks & Rec District, Grant County and John Day.
The size of the committee was initially kept small, Green explained. If it gets too large, there could be too many voices and it could be ineffective. Now that options have been studied and proposed, the committee could be enlarged, he said. Weigum agreed with Green.
Haley Walker, who has been active in developing options for a new pool, noted that while the steering committee represents large taxing jurisdictions that could be affected, it was never set up just for people who support a new pool.
Former Commissioner Rob Raschio sat on the committee until this year, when Commissioner Sam Palmer took his place at an April 2 informational meeting hosted by the John Day swim team. Hamsher noted that Raschio was never appointed by the court to serve in that capacity.
Myers noted that Raschio is very committed to seeing a new pool built and is willing to serve on the steering committee. He motioned to appoint Raschio to the committee with the understanding that he remains neutral and provides information to the court. If not, the court will pull him, Myers said.
Palmer agreed, noting that there will be bias no matter what. Hamsher also agreed, saying Raschio will be asked to do no lobbying.
Judy Kerr objected to the court’s decision, saying Raschio was a cheerleader and not neutral. Jim Spell commented that the bottom line is that either the county court will kill the pool concept or let the voters decide. Myers agreed that was it in a nutshell.
In other county court news:
• The court approved two requests by Justice of the Peace Kathy Stinnett. She asked for approval of a $3,000 audio, video and recording system for Justice Court to improve hearing for participants and to allow inmates to participate without leaving jail.
Stinnett said she averages about 10 inmates in court per month. Some have substance abuse or mental health issues, so she has gone to the jail for hearings.
She noted that Justice Court is not a court of record, so the recording equipment would typically be turned off and not used unless requested by parties. The legislature may make justice courts into courts of record in the future, and if so the Grant County court would be prepared.
Stinnett also wanted the state Department of Justice to handle collections for back fines. This would satisfy the court’s duties to enforce the law through “passive collection,” she said. DOR would take 10% of the collected funds.
• The court also approved a request by the Grant County Library to sell its bookmobile and use the funds as needed. Library board member Kathy Smith said they have not heard any concerns from schools since it stopped running.