The Mexico City Council and city department leaders on Monday worked for approximately three hours to find a consensus on planned projects and funding sources for the upcoming fiscal year. One major discussion point from Monday's work session was Fairgrounds Pool. A draft version of the 2019-20 budget is now available, which will be voted on by the council by the end of September.
Estimated replacement and upgrade costs for the pool are estimated at about $3.6 million. Mexico City Manager Bruce Slagle said this will allow for all the amenities residents are seeking — zero-entry pool, splash pad and swim lanes for competitive events.
The Parks and Recreation fund of the city's budget is expected to start the 2019-20 fiscal year Oct. 1 with $302,529. Estimated revenue for the fund, including transfers from other funds, is approximately $4.7 million, with estimated expenditures of approximately $4.8 million. Revenue for this fund comes from a park property tax of $0.0976 per $100 of assessed valuation, a one-half of 1% parks sales tax and charges from user fees for parks, pool and recreation programs.
Pool upgrade funding will potentially come from three sources. One-third is expected from the city's capital project reserve fund, one-third from the Parks and Rec fund and the final third will need approval from Mexico residents.
"That means Chad [Shoemaker, parks and rec director] will have some work cut out for him, as well, as far as fundraising and donations and what we can do operationally," Slagle said in reference to the one-third funding coming from the parks department fund.
This third source could be a use tax on internet sales or a 10-cent increase to the park property tax, according to the budget letter prepared by city staff.
The city is exploring a use-tax option on internet sales as a funding source due to declining sales tax collections from brick-and-mortar stores. The state already collects tax on internet sales due to a U.S. Supreme court ruling in 2018. Mexico voters, however, would have to approve a use tax on internet sales. Use taxes are collected on out-of-state purchases. So, if a person from Iowa was to buy something through an e-commerce site, that Iowa resident would be taxed for that product. That tax money would go to the city of Mexico.
Sales tax collections have even slowed in Columbia due to a steadily growing e-commerce industry. A use-tax ballot measure would mean the difference between no pool, if the tax is voted down by Mexico voters, or the upgrades residents want, if approved. Without the use tax or some other third funding source, the city would eventually have to shut the pool down and install just a splash pad, which is much less expensive to install and operate.
Other entities throughout Audrain County also are seeking a use-tax on internet sales, Slagle said. These include the county government, Audrain County Ambulance District, Audrain County Joint Communications and the city of Laddonia, he said. Each taxing entity would have a separate ballot measure for the use tax.
"Moberly already has voted it and passed it. I understand there is one city in the county that already has it, and that is Farber, according to the commissioners," he said.
The use tax would be divided where one cent goes to the city's general fund, one-half cent to capital improvement and one-half cent to parks. The city could then earmark how the tax revenue would be spent within those respective funds, such as the city pool.
The use tax has the potential for being placed on the April 2020 ballot. If approved, funds likely would start coming to the city by September of next year. "It's going to have to be up to us and the local folks to vote on if they want it," Slagle said. "It is a main street fairness issue and that is how most [entities] have talked about it."
The city will try to get at least three contractors to participate in a competitive design-build contract process for the pool and funding source options, such as the use tax being included as a requirement in the contract.
"We'll bring in the contractors, after we get direction from [the council], at the pool and we'll have a meeting with all three of them at the same time and say, 'These are the parameters we desire and we're having a design competition.' After you choose a contractor, then the design-build process actually begins," Shoemaker said.
The city will then hold public meetings to present pool design options. The construction would cost around $3.5 million, and $75,000 would be split among the contractors not selected for the project, making the total cost upward of $3.6 million.
"I think our community is ready to see that we're actually moving, so when are we going to get the contractors in to do the competition?" Mayor Ayanna Shivers said.
The contractor for the pool potentially could be selected by the first of the year, Slagle said. "At that point, then what we're saying is we would like them to help us with some of the designs to say this is what you're going to be looking at. Which, I think helps support any funding mechanism that you're voting for," he said.
Council member Chris Williams questioned whether the city was doing enough with the money it potentially has available for the pool upgrades.
"In this kind of a price tag, you're not going to get a totally new facility. We're going to try to salvage what we can of our current facility and you're basically looking at a 25-meter pool, so in essence keeping the deep end, and then the rest of it being a zero entry with basically pool features, splash ground-type features," Slagle said.
Of all the aquatic surveys the city has done, the two most frequent requests were more shade and the already-mentioned pool features, Shoemaker said. "The pool house building has structural issues and has to be replaced, the pool mechanicals have to be replaced," he said, adding that building the pool in this hybrid nature would allow for all resident requests.
The current pool configuration is a 50-meter by 25-meter lane swimming pool and a separate wading pool. The zero-entry would eliminate the wading pool in favor of splash pad features. The current pool no longer follows the model aquatic code because of its age, Shoemaker said.
"There's a lot of things in this pool that you cannot do anymore. You would be liable for building something that isn't a generally accepted practice," he said. "The baby pool is one of those things. You cannot have a separate body of water running off of the same pump and filtration system."
Pool features also can be upgraded as time progresses if they are economically feasible. The city slightly increased entry fees this year due to Proposition B passed in November, which increased minimum wage to $8.60. Minimum wage will continue to increase 85 cents each year until it reaches $12 per hour in 2023. The city will have to explore which add-on pool amenities are doable as wages increase for lifeguards, as well as how many lifeguards and other seasonal pool staff the city could hire due to the yearly increases. Features like slides require lifeguards stationed at the top and bottom of a slide.
"Brooke [Jameson, recreation supervisor] and I visited multiple pools under construction and talked to all of them in great length about what features can we operate with fewer lifeguards and what features provide the most play ground with fewer lifeguards," Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker conceded that a new pool may not offer the same features as the old one, but countered that what is planned will have more play value for guests. "There will be more ways for kids to play and more things for kids to do," he said. "Part of the reason you go from the 50 to the 25 [meters] is all that deck space becomes available for play features."
The city also is seeking to have the pool space designed so a section of the splash pad can be separated from the pool and it can continue to be used into September and even prior to Memorial Day, since that area would not need lifeguard supervision.