Mayor Talks Pools As City Council Prepares For Second Vote

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The Athens City Council will discuss a second reading of an ordinance authorizing engineering services for an outdoor municipal swimming pool at tonight’s Athens City Council meeting, a topic that Mayor Steve Patterson faced multiple times during his “Meet the Mayor” event at the Athens Community Center.

Patterson held the event, which was attended by 20-30 residents and news media, to answer questions from the public and share his vision for Athens.

“Yes, our pool…is in dire need of being replaced,” Patterson said, adding that parks around the city need improvements and requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act also need to be a focus.

The mayor explained to the public that he’d also been looking at numbers for indoor pools, including a 90-degree “therapy” pool that he estimated would cost $600,000.

“Is it fiscally responsible? I think it is,” Patterson said.

The municipal swimming pool has been a point of controversy in the city, after a November parks and recreation levy was passed including improvements to the pool. Athens residents and city council members have expressed frustration at the levy specifications for the pool, saying more options than just an outdoor pool should be discussed.

Councilwoman Michelle Papai had argued that the information provided by one consultant hired by the city shouldn’t be the only opinion considered.

“We only have one consultant that we paid ($20,000) to $25,000 to, and we have one opinion,” Papai said. “I think there are still a lot of questions in the community regarding this issue.”

“The money’s not there” for competition-sized pool, Patterson told the audience at his public event, and the funds from the levy shouldn’t all be spent on the pool. The number of items he’d like to tackle with extra funding, such as an ADA lift in the Municipal Building and renovation of the Armory and a pool, can’t all be done at once.

“We can only spread this peanut butter so far,” he said.

Patterson also talked about a “special improvement district” he proposed for certain areas of the city. He said he visited regions in Ohio to get ideas on special improvement districts.

“Property owners (within the district) would be able to vote on what will unfold,” he said. “If they want hanging baskets on the streets, or if they want new light posts, they would decide.”

The special improvement district would would include an “assessment” of the area, essentially a tax to those in the area, which could include streets, certain neighborhoods, or other parts of the city.

“All the money created through the special assessment would be invested in that specific district,” said Paul Logue, City Planner for Athens.

Questions came from the audience about everything from snow removal, to the city’s aging infrastructure and enforcement of city code when it comes to rental properties.

“We really need to have a stronger enforcement of the code,” he said when asked if he felt the landlords were following codes or whether codes were being enforced.

When it came to infrastructure, the mayor said he recognized the problems the infrastructure, some of which was installed in the 1930s, 1960s and 1970s, would have now. But he deferred to City Engineer Andy Stone to talk about the money it would take to bring water pipes into the 21st Century.

“We have identified $58 million in infrastructure work,” Stone said. “We need to find grants to fill those funds.”