Winamac Town Council votes 3-2 to suspend pool project
Friday, 06 October 2017 20:02

What becomes of funds already raised?

WINAMAC - The immediate prospects for the Winamac Pool Project fell into jeopardy this week after an unexpected 3-2 vote by the Winamac Town Council Wednesday night (Oct. 4) to cease efforts to proceed with the project until such a time town revenues can maintain a pool.

Then, the following evening the Winamac Parks & Recreation Board, feeling it had no other choice without the town council's blessing, voted 4-1 to suspend its efforts to support the pool project.

However, town councilwoman Judy Heater, who also heads up the Winamac Pool Project Committee, said Friday morning, "we're not ready to shut down the pool project," despite the actions of the town council and parks board.

More than half of the funds needed to build a new $643,000 community swimming pool have been raised and are held in a fund for the project by the Community Foundation of Pulaski County, including a $150,000 pledge from the town council itself.

Proposed plans call for the new pool to be a depth of five-feet across and to be largely fitted into the footprint of the 50-year-old town pool, located next to the Community Wellness Center (formerly the YMCA). The old pool was closed three years ago due to its age and deteriorated condition.

 

Town Council calls special meeting

The town council met in special session Wednesday "to discuss the Town of Winamac Parks & Recreation future funding and any other matters that may come before the council," according to its agenda.

Of particular concern to the council is a shortfall of expected funds from Pulaski County government, reportedly due to a decrease in local income tax revenues. To make up for that shortfall, the town has already dipped into the old pool fund that is now being used for recreational purposes. Also noted was the fact the parks board did not receive this summer a hoped for DNR Land & Water Conservation grant to be used to help fund the pool project - although parks board members had been told they may have to apply for the grant a couple of times to secure it.

Citing these circumstances, some council members questioned proceeding with the pool project. Surprised, Heater, suddenly sensed a move to shut down the project without study or public discussion.

A motion by councilman Dan Vanaman to table the matter failed. A second motion by Alvin Parish to suspend construction of a swimming pool until the town is financially able to maintain a pool passed by a 3-2 vote with Parish, council president Tom Murray and James Watkins supporting it, and Vanaman and Heater dissenting.

Heater later said the motion to suspend the pool project was a "total surprise" to her and Vanaman. "Why was this not addressed at a regular meeting?" she asked, adding, "the town council didn't have to do this now without further study and discussion, and without waiting to see how the county intends to remedy this funding shortfall." She now wants to hold a joint meeting with her committee and the town council and the parks board to find their way forward on the pool project.

 

Parks & Recreation Board

At Thursday night's Winamac Parks & Recreation monthly board meeting, members acknowledged the town's revenue shortfall concerns, as well as the conundrum now faced by the pool committee.

Those who spoke continued to support the merits of the pool construction project.

Member Chris Schramm said the board talked to town council members and were told the town could not afford the pool. "We acted in good faith (in supporting the pool project), but budgets change," Schramm said.

"I understand fiscal responsibility," parks board president Courtney Poor said. "I also believe in dreams." He wondered if another organization could be found to fund the pool.

But, only the parks board can apply for the DNR grants designed for such projects (which could be up to $200,000) to construct the pool. In fact, it was with these potential grants in mind that the town council formed the parks board last year.

In the end, the parks board voted 4-1 to end its efforts to support the pool project. Poor cast the dissenting vote.

The board then directed the pool committee to begin discussing alternative ideas to the pool project, using the funds already raised.

However, that's a task that may not ultimately fall within the committee's jurisdiction.

 

What becomes of funds already raised?

The future disposition of the funds raised and held by the Community Foundation were not entirely understood by many of those at both meetings.

At least one town council member was under the impression the council wouldn't have to commit the $150,000 pledged if the project was dropped.

The town council's attorney, Justin Schramm, told the parks board Thursday night (as he had told the council following its vote the night before) that the funds raised cannot be returned to the donors, including the $150,000 pledged by the town council.

The parks board members did express the belief that the Community Foundation board would welcome suggestions for the funds by the pool committee, especially for projects that would provide recreational opportunities for children.

According to the fund agreement document signed with the Community Foundation, the pool must be completed by the end of 2020. If the sponsor determines the project cannot be accomplished according to the agreement terms, the future use of the funds will be determined by the Community Foundation board.

All this information regarding the funds raised and pledged was confirmed Friday by the Community Foundation's executive director Wendy Rose.

"We have been and will continue to be supportive of those who have worked so hard on this project," Rose said. "It's early in the game. For the many, many people who have donated to this project, I can assure you the Foundation will not act rashly."

For now, the only deadline for these Community Foundation funds is to have the pool constructed by the end of December 2020. The parks board and Winamac Pool Committee plan to meet in coming weeks to discuss their options regarding the future of the  project. Then the parks board will appear at the Nov. 21 Community Foundation board meeting for a status update.

 

Meanwhile ...

Several months ago, Heater reported that over 70 local businesses and individuals had donated nearly $95,000 to the pool project. Two large donations were made by Don and Dee Galbreath, and BraunAbility. Most of these donations were matched with a grant through the Community Foundation of Pulaski County as part of the Lilly Endowment's GIFT VI program. The Town of Winamac had also committed $150,000 to the project, along with help for some of the demolition and construction work, saving additional costs.

At one public meeting early on regarding the project, a resident observed, "you have to have these amenities to draw families to live in Winamac," and pointed out such benefits the town already enjoys with its park system, including the Town Park, Reinhart Park, ball parks, tennis courts, walking trail, volleyball courts - and now pickleball courts.

Heater and the pool committee plan to keep raising money for the project down the line. She noted the pool committee has worked to keep its efforts positive and upbeat, and the response has been supportive.

Donations will continue to be accepted for the project and may be directed to the Community Foundation of Pulaski County at P.O. Box 407, 127 E. Pearl St., Winamac. Visit pulaskiccf.org for more information.

 

By Karen Clem Fritz