Mesa County stops Orchard Mesa pool funds
The funding future of the Orchard Mesa Community Center Pool is treading water as Grand Junction city councilors and Mesa County commissioners prepare to discuss who should pay for the public facility.
The county, city and School District 51 signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Memorandum of Agreement in July 1982 agreeing to evenly split construction, renovation and operation costs for the pool facility between the city and the county. The school district became responsible for the pool’s electrical costs in 1987.
In 2010, city staff learned the county was not interested in continuing to pay half of the costs for the pool at 2736 Unaweep Ave. There was no formal letter announcing the change, according to city Parks and Recreation Director Rob Schoeber. But a letter followed in February 2012 from then-Mesa County Administrator Chantal Unfug to Grand Junction City Manager Rich Englehart and District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz saying, in part, “Unfortunately, our adopted 2011 and 2012 budgets do not include funds for the Orchard Mesa Pool and we are proposing that this be the final payment.”
The letter indicates it came with a $44,000 payment for the 2011 budget year. The county’s share for that year was supposed to be $88,672, according to documents provided by the county. The county also paid $250 less than its 50 percent share in 2009, $981 less than its share in 2010 and none of its $102,203 share in 2012, according to those documents.
Commissioners in those years decided not to fund the pool due to budget constraints and a sentiment that a swimming pool is more aligned with the mission of city government than a county government, County Administrator Tom Fisher said.
“The last board did not feel it was the role of county government to be in charge of recreation aside from providing places to recreate, like the fairgrounds,” Fisher said.
The current board is leaning that way as well but is not sure the letter from Unfug was enough to cut off the agreement. The memorandum of understanding from 31 years ago lists five ways the agreement can be dissolved, including the abandonment of the pool, the end of the 99-year contract, and if the city and county stop providing funds for repair, operation and maintenance of the pool. The agreement does not say how to proceed if just the city or the county pulls funding.
Commissioner Rose Pugliese said the announcement should probably come from commissioners rather than an administrator. County Attorney Lyle Dechant is preparing a resolution for adoption by commissioners before or after a July 31 meeting with City Council to formally announce the county is stepping away from the memorandum and all future payments.
Pugliese said she would like to hear from the city and the public before any decisions are finalized. For now, if the city sends a bill, which Pugliese said some council members have suggested they may do, “we’ll ignore it,” she said.
Grand Junction City Councilman Bennett Boeschenstein said the pool is an important community asset and the only indoor swimming pool available to all citizens year-round. He called the county’s lack of funding in recent years “inexcusable.”
“It’s a facility we all share in and we should all contribute to,” Boeschenstein said. “It’s not as though they don’t have the resources to pay for it.”
Fisher said funding for the pool is not in the county budget. He added the city backed off its agreement to share the cost of conservation easement buffer investments with the county in the zones between Fruita and Grand Junction and Palisade and Grand Junction.
“I’m not trying to create a tit-for-tat situation,” Fisher said, but he is concerned about funding a pool during harsh economic times locally.
Schoeber said for now the city is covering the county’s side of pool funding.
“Obviously it puts a strain on general fund dollars but we don’t really have a choice. We have so many programs out there,” Schoeber said. “Certainly it’s a partnership we hope comes back.”