Time to take the plunge? Next steps in pursuing outdoor pool evaluated
WORTHINGTON -- The push for a new outdoor swimming pool in town is far from over.
After the group Citizens Pooling Together presented their case to the city council on Feb. 25, members have been waiting for direction.
"We met afterward and said right now we were going to just kind of sit back and wait for the city to come to us with some direction," said Mike Smith, a member of Citizens Pooling Together. "I know they had met and had an all-day planning session. We've heard nothing."
The pool did come up in the work session the council had earlier this month, according to City Administrator Craig Clark.
"We did a hold a strategic planning session, and it came up and we'll need to address it further -- that's essentially all the more discussion that we've had," Clark said. "At this point, the ball is really in the Citizens Pooling Together camp to exercise the statutory provisions to put it on the ballot if that's their interest in doing that."
Clark cited the city aquatic center, which was built in 2010, as the council's financial commitment to outdoor swimming in Worthington.
"From a city perspective, we made a significant $4.5 million investment to a swimming amenity in the community to provide six times the amount of swimming opportunities that the former pool did," Clark said. "Council essentially moved in that direction when we had discussions about the outdoor pool site of that being the better alternative of putting those resources toward an amenity that wouldn't be used as much."
Smith realizes there is some resistance, but still wants the project to move forward.
"They talk about the money, but it's the people's money," he said. "My feeling is, like the mayor said, there are a lot of us that were and are for small government in that room that night. If the people are asking for something, I think you have to see what you can do to accommodate what the people are asking for."
To get the money to build a new pool, a bonding bill would have to be passed. To do that, it would have to be voted on by the public.
There are two ways to get it to the ballot. According to Minnesota state law:
"A special election may be held in a city on a question which the voters are authorized by law or charter to pass judgment. There are two ways to call a special election on a question: 1) A special election may be ordered by the city council on its own motion; or 2) (On a question that has not been submitted to the voters within the previous 6 months) Upon a petition signed by a number of voters equal to 20 percent of the votes cast at the last city general election. A question passes only with the majority in its favor as required by law or charter."
According to State Elections Director Gary Poser, the city charter has to allow a question like this to be on the ballot.
"As far as I know, being able to put it on the ballot, the state statutes would be our governing requirements," Clark said. "That's what the citizen groups would have to work through."
Currently, the pool group is waiting on the council before making any decisions.
"The brief discussion we had after the meeting and since then informally is to just let's give them time to react before we go ahead with any definite direction," Smith said. "If they come back and say it's not on our radar, then we have to decide if we want to bring it to a vote. Do we want to do a petition?"
To get the pool bonding on the ballot through a petition, the group would need a number of signatures equal to 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election, which was November 2012.
According to Nobles County Auditor-Treasure Sharon Balster, 4,098 people voted in the last city election. To get the pool bonding through to the ballot, the group needs 820 signatures.
"If we were to go after 20 percent needed to get on the ballot, I think we could easily get that from the feedback I've had from the community," Smith said.
To qualify to sign for the petition, a person would have to be eligible to vote as of that day.
"It's somebody that would be eligible to vote, they are over 18, live in the city and wouldn't be a felon, so as long as they are an eligible voter," Poser explained. "If the city is voting on it, people who are eligible to vote on that question are people who live within the city limits."
While the first petition had more than 500 signatures on them, none of them would count toward a new petition. Each eligible person would have to sign again.
"The only thing that's state-controlled is the format of the basic petition," Poser said. "There is a sample of what a petition looks like on our website. There is a whole big blank space up on the top where they can fill in whatever they need to fill in.
"The format of the petitions are pretty standard where there are 10 signatures on a page, they have to sign it and print their name, their address and those types of things."
If pool bonding makes it to a ballot, all it has to do is pass by a majority.
"It just has to be one more than the 50 percent of the people who voted on the question," Poser said. "The yeses have to beat the nos."
Smith believes having a vote on major issues is a good idea, regardless of the issue.
"I personally think that's the best way to do a lot of things that the city has done," he said. "Instead of having people complain about it after the fact, on some of the bigger issues, let the people decide.
"I'm one of those people that believes, ask the people," he continued. "If they don't want it, then there's nothing for the people to sit around and complain about. If you put it on the ballot and it gets overwhelming support, there's your direction."