Task force preparing for second vote
FAIRFIELD — Timing is important for the Fairfield outdoor pool and new gymnasium project, task force chairman Tom McMahon told the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Monday.
McMahon and task force members Tammy Dunbar and Jane McMahon attended Monday’s supervisors meeting to ask for a second vote in the unincorporated portions of Jefferson County. The task force asked the supervisors to hold an election March 4 for county residents to support the pool and gym project with $1 million.
The supervisors will make a decision at their next meeting, Dec. 9.
County voters were asked in August to divert 16 percent of the county’s 80 percent local option sales tax that goes toward property tax relief to the pool and gym project for 10 years or $1 million, whichever is reached first.
It was defeated by a margin of 26 votes. In a very low turnout, 9 percent, or 396 ballots, were cast from a possible 4,323 active voters in the unincorporated portions of the county. The final tally was 211 no and 185 yes votes.
“The task force believes a second vote will be positive,” said McMahon. “We feel the August vote was not indicative of the support for this project. We’ll do a much better job of educating the public about it.
“The task force has $6.7 million raised and we need $3.3 million more,” McMahon said. “The task force is continuing to raise funds and we’re applying for a $1.8 million CAT grant from the state. We’ve reviewed other grant projects that were approved, and our project fits right in.”
The grant application is due Jan. 15. Part of the application requires showing broad community support. McMahon said countywide approval would demonstrate broad support; Fairfield has already approved supporting the project with $3 million.
Community Attraction and Tourism grant recipients will be notified around March 10, said McMahon.
“We want to include on our grant application that the county is holding a vote March 4,” he said.
If the funding comes in from the county vote and the grant award, McMahon said there are still a significant amount of private donations waiting to commit to the project.
“Some of these people are waiting until we are closer to the $10 million fundraising goal to sign on the line,” he said.
“If we get the CAT grant and other funding, we can have a timeline of opening a new outdoor pool in June 2015,” said McMahon. “The gym would open in the fall of 2015. If we don’t get positive results in fundraising, we’ll have to delay another year.”
Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy had told the three county supervisors at the Nov. 25 city council meeting that the city and task force would apply for a CAT grant and the task force would ask for a second county vote to support the project.
At that city council meeting, Supervisor Dick Reed said he wasn’t against a county contribution toward the pool and gym project, but he’d like to see the task force bring 500 signatures from the rural fund to show there is support to hold another vote.
In the week since then, the task force has mustered volunteers to seek the 500 rural fund signatures.
“The task force, which is not a public entity, is doing the work and we’ve got petitions out there,” said McMahon. “We’re not telling anyone they can’t sign it.
“We understand the county has to pay $10,000 for an election and if the task force is allowed, we’re ready to help fund the election,” he said. “I don’t want to force a vote. We want to see all the communities working together on this and not have adversarial feelings.”
Reed said he’d rather see the task force’s $10,000 going toward the pool.
The task force will bring the signatures it collects to the next board of supervisors meeting Dec. 9, and the board will decide about holding another election on March 4.
“I think we should think about holding another vote, especially if it leverages more money,” said Supervisor Becky Schmitz.
Reed said he wasn’t opposed to another county vote.
“I want a positive outcome,” he said.
“This project is broadly supported,” said McMahon. “One of the first fundraisers for it was held by the Van Buren School District. Membership at the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center includes lots of county residents.
“Our impression is the supervisors are supportive.”
Reed said he would be willing to offer the task force funding from the county to show support of the CAT grant, but it wouldn’t be a large amount of money.
“I supported and voted yes in town for the pool and gym,” said supervisor chairman Lee Dimmitt. “I supported holding the [August] county vote. But whether I support it or not is not the point.
“It’s reasonable to me to move this out a week and see how many signatures are collected. I get the impression that some feel the last vote was not legitimate. If the reverse were true, if this had won by 26 votes, we’d be moving forward without discussion.
“I want to remind everyone, in this particular instance, the board [of supervisors] represents the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County. That’s whose taxes we’ll use. I think Dick’s [Reed] request for signatures is valid and not adversarial. I think it if we just set another vote without signatures, that could be adversarial.”
Reed said he would be comfortable making a decision next week.
“We’re talking about using local option sales tax money,” he said. “The government gets involved to help with growth and have amenities to bring and keep people in the community. An outdoor pool and a gym to accommodate traveling teams is part of economic development.
“I honestly think a new gym will bring in more money than the pool,” Reed said. “So many events could be held in a gym and those events bring people to our community who spend money and contribute to the local option sales tax.
“Yes, we’re asking for a roll-back in property tax relief to be able to use part of the funding toward this project, but if the project in turn brings in more money, it’s a good deal.
“I’d love to see a huge voter turn-out.”
Public Health Administrator Chris Estle said the project contributes to keeping community members healthy.
Audience member, Bob Palm, said he was against having another vote.
“I tried to get about 10 other guys to come with me today, because we’ve talked about this,” he said. “They said it was a waste of time. You’ll keep coming back for a vote until you get what you want.”