OGDEN -- The Ogden School District on Thursday announced plans to stop subsidizing the high cost of repairing, maintaining and operating its two swimming pools by tapping into funds that could better be used for education.
The district has announced plans for a June 25 election, to allow Ogden residents to vote on whether they want to fund repairs, updates and operation costs for the two pools by agreeing to an increase in Ogden property tax.
The increase for the average Ogden home, valued at $120,200, would amount to $20 to $25 per year, said Brad Smith, district superintendent.
"The pool subsidy is about $260,000 per year for the Ben Lomond and Ogden high pools (combined)," he said.
"As we look at cuts in these difficult financial times, I don't feel comfortable reducing benefits or programs. Our primary mission is education, not subsidizing swimming pools.
"In my mind, the pools are at the top of the hit list, but they are also an important community resource. So we are letting the public decide if it wants to pay the costs to keep the pools open."
Smith said to repair the pools' mechanical systems, including replacing a 40-year-old boiler at Ben Lomond High, would require a one-time expenditure of $1.1 million, which would cover both pools.
Replacing bleachers that don't meet current safety codes, and upgrading the appearance of the two pool areas, would require a one-time expenditure of about $1 million.
To operate both pools annually would require an ongoing annual expenditure of $260,000 beyond the $30,000 to $40,000 raised annually by pool admission fees.
Smith said, in his mind, any property tax increase approved by voters in June should revert to a lower amount in three or four years, when the one-time costs are paid and only the ongoing operational cost remains.
He estimates the cost to fund ongoing operation would be about $6 annually per Ogden home.
But Smith also does not believe the levy could be written to reflect that intention, so it would be up to future board members to approve a tax decrease once major pool renovation and repair costs had been paid off.
"I would think they would have a moral commitment," Smith said of an eventual board member vote to decrease taxes.
The pools, built in the early 1970s and originally run by Ogden city, were deeded to the district in 1990.
The Ogden High School pool closed earlier this month because of a major leak. Smith said the pool is losing 1 to 1.5 feet of water per week from a leak in the pipe system under the pool. The exact source of that leak has not yet been identified, Smith said.
"We've got a heck of a sinkhole coming, or a town in China has chlorinated water," he joked.
Smith said all pools have leaks and that the Ogden High pool has been leaking for several years, but the pool's major leak is a recent development.
Smith expects to have the exact wording and money amounts to be used in the local levy vote ready by April 4 for Ogden School Board members to consider.
The Ogden School District pools are used by members of the public and by in-school swim teams, but also by swim teams from most high schools in the Weber School District, and a few community swim teams, Smith said.
If the local levy does not pass, all groups will need to look for other accommodations, such as the Marshall White Center pool or health club pools, or make a decision to disband, Smith said.
The belt tightening is part of a larger trend within the district, Smith said. Due largely to funding cuts, the district's "rainy day fund" is about half what it was in the 2007-08 school year, he said.
Back then, the fund contained $11.7 million. In 2012-13, the current school year, the fund balance is at less than $6 million, he said.
"We are now at the point where it is not prudent to deduct more and lower the fund to $4 (million) or $5 million," Smith said.
"We can no longer afford to subsidize the cost of the pools."