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Splashing in Cash

We’ve never liked the “G” word around here. “GROWTH” is a four-letter word in Boulder City. Our controlled growth ordinances are among the most stringent in the U.S. “Development” is another naughty word that we don’t like saying much.

But maybe we’ve been so concerned about that kind of growth that we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to another kind that’s been happening right under our noses? Instead, maybe we need to be a little more alarmed about the ever-growing girth of our local government.

When I was mayor, the city’s annual general fund budget was in the $31-$33 million range. That seems like forever ago, but it’s only been four years. This year, our City Council approved staff’s whopping $47 million general fund budget. That’s a $15 million increase, or half again as much as when I served. That means we’ve grown government by 50% in just a few short years. BIG government just doesn’t seem to fit with our treasured slow-growth mentality and celebrated small-town charm.

It also feels like we could have paid for the design of a new swimming pool three times over if we hadn’t been increasing other expenditures so much. Maybe even for construction of the entire project?

Have we lost sight of how critical that new pool is? The existing pool is over 40 years old, no longer suitable for competitive meets, and beyond repair. Our Parks and Recreation Department Director, Roger Hall, has been telling us that for at least a decade. City Council candidates, including those currently serving on Council, have repeatedly proclaimed that a new pool was among their top two or three priorities.

Conceptual designs for the new pool were prepared as early as 2016. Educational outreach campaigns were launched shortly thereafter. Public surveys were conducted as well. An anonymous donor contributed $1.3 million in May 2019. A new ad hoc swimming pool advisory committee was then tasked with scaling back the project’s scope in September 2019. The Finance Department unveiled a new five-step funding plan in February 2020. And ballot questions to help fund the plan have since been approved with great anticipation by our citizens.

But now, over seven years after we began the process in earnest, we still don’t have a new pool. In fact, we haven’t even begun the actual design work. So, why not? Why, with all this money being used to grow the size of our government, haven’t we even started the real design work?

I’m told that the city now has over $12 million sitting in a swimming pool fund just waiting to be spent. Apparently what we’re waiting for are more funds from the sale of Tract 350 for the construction of residences around Boulder Creek Golf Course. Ninety percent (90%) of those sale proceeds will go toward the new pool. Toll Brothers previously submitted a successful proposal to purchase that land. But their high-density layout wasn’t very popular, so the City Council sent Toll Brothers back to the drawing board. Word on the street has it that Toll Brothers is preparing to re-submit a new design.

Meanwhile, time marches on, and the cost of designing and constructing a new aquatic center keeps escalating. And if we keep waiting, the cost will only continue to skyrocket further.

The city decided against a full-blown aquatic facility complete with a fitness center, concessions, and new racquetball courts after voters expressed their concern with the projected $30-$40 million price tag back in 2019. So, the ad hoc committee cut the scope way back, more studies were commissioned, and lots and lots of waiting then occurred.

But all this waiting is only resulting in the very problem many were trying to avoid in the first place–a price tag that exceeds $30-$40 million. Only now we’re going to get far less bang for our buck.

I’m not opposed to using Toll Brothers’ money to construct our new pool. But let’s hurry and get it before it ends up buying us no more than a covered kiddie pool and a few life preservers. Otherwise, we need to find the money elsewhere and fast.

Did anyone think to look in the city’s own $47 M/year coffers? Seems like a good place to start if you ask me.

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