At their Feb. 16 meeting, Cache Creek council defeated a motion to ask for a report outlining options to determine a cost to replace the existing swimming pool with a new facility having the same features. Coun. Wendy Coomber and Coun. Lisa Dafoe voted in favour of it.
There was a lengthy discussion about the subject, with several council members acknowledging that the public needed to be consulted. However, no public meeting date was set, and questions about when such a meeting would take place went unanswered.
Coomber asked for the motion — which would have looked at options to cost out a replacement for the current swimming and tot/wading pools — to go on the agenda. The facility did not open in 2020, following a decision at a closed council meeting on March 23, 2020, and Coomber said she had been thinking about the pool a lot.
“The conclusion I came to is we cannot fix the current pool. We need to either replace it or wave goodbye. It’s been a long time since the village has built anything of that kind of value, and it would be nice to leave something for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren: a beautiful new outdoor pool they can enjoy for a long time.”
Coomber said that recreation infrastructure was important to the community’s well-being, and something that ticks off boxes people use while determining whether they want to move to or stay in a community. “I believe it’s a vital piece of the town’s infrastructure.”
A pool, she said, provided a chance for people to take swimming lessons, which she noted was important in an area where people liked to swim in rivers. “We have several deaths by drowning in our rivers in B.C. every year.” She added that a pool could be an economic development driver, one that would attract potential residents.
Coun. Annette Pittman said she agreed, but noted that the public has been waiting for the village to provide them with a report on the actual cost to repair the current pool and the list of issues and concerns with it. “I don’t want to continue to postpone opening up this pool, so I would like to see us with a concrete financial report and list of the actual issues with this pool.”
Coun. Sue Peters said she thought that wasn’t a bad idea for public peace of mind. “I would also like to see, as part of this report, the estimated ongoing maintenance costs. There’s a lot more to the upkeep of a pool.” CAO Martin Dalsin pointed out that the motion was not to find out the cost of replacing the pool, but rather to look at ways to determine what that cost might be.
Coomber noted that a new, modern pool would be much more energy-efficient than the current one, which is nearly 50 years old.
Mayor Santo Talarico said he agreed with all the points raised, and acknowledged that the pool was an important part of the village’s recreational program. However, he said that a new pool was going to be “very, very expensive.
“We don’t even have our annual provisional budget complete yet [for 2021]. We don’t know where 2022 and 2023 even sit yet, so to ask administration to spend time to put together anything at this point is way premature; not until we get our 2021 provisional budget done and know where we sit in 2022 and 2023.
“Further, we have to consult with the public to see what they want for recreation. They might not even want a new public outdoor pool. They might want a new indoor pool. We don’t know that. We have to go into a public consultation process with recreation in general, for them to give their feedback to us. They’re the ones who are going to be paying the bill.”
Talarico said that the current pool — built in 1973 — was “hastily built” in a flood plain. Because of where it was built, he said that it has cost the citizens of the community $1 million over 46 years. “That $1 million was not a loss of operations when it was open; it was a loss when it was closed from September to the beginning of April of every year, and that is a very conservative estimate. That is what it costs us when it is not in operation.”
The cost, he explained, was due to the fact that whereas other outdoor pools can be drained at the end of the season and not incur costs over the fall, winter, and spring, the Cache Creek pool has to be kept full of water, and maintained, year-round because of its location in groundwater. Dalsin clarified that the issue was not flooding; the pool sits in a high water table area, and if it was not kept full of water it would lift up out of the ground.
Talarico said that if the public wants a new pool, it can’t go in that spot. “We are going to move cautiously, and we are going to hear from the public before we move forward.”
Pittman said that the public was promised a meeting in September 2019, and it was now February 2021. “I guess they need some sort of feedback about where we’re at.”
Talarico reiterated the fact that the village did not know where it was at with the 2021 budget, let alone 2022 or 2023. “We’ve run deficits since 2017. That has to be factored into how we think we’re going to move forward.”
Coun. Lisa Dafoe said she agreed that council needed to have a budget in place and know where they sit, and also questioned the timing of the motion. “We have a lot going on. But there is value for us and for the public to know that we do still care about that pool and it is still front of our minds.”
After the initial motion was defeated, Coomber asked for a second motion, regarding staff putting together a report about the cost of repairing the current pool. “Perhaps at the same time we present the report we can also start a public engagement for a new pool.” The motion was not seconded or voted on.
Talarico referred again to the fact that council does not know what the public wants. “If we want to get to the point of opening up the existing pool let’s have a report on what that’s going to cost. As far as moving beyond that stage, we’re nowhere near that yet.”
Coomber noted that a public engagement process about the pool could take up to a year, and finding money up to another year, so a new pool probably would not happen for three years. Dalsin said that preparing a report about the costs associated with repairing the current pool would also cost money, as the village would have to hire someone with expertise in that area to say what needs to be done, what the costs would be, and what the operational costs down the road would be.
“I don’t want to be a naysayer,” he said.”I’m the way most people are. I would love to have that swimming pool, or a swimming pool, open. But before we do that we have to find out from our budget discussions how much money we have to put toward a study like that.” He estimated the cost of a study to find out what needs to be done, and how much it would cost, would be in the neighbourhood of $20,000 to $25,000.
Pittman returned to the fact that council had promised the public that they were going to do something in 2019 and it was now 2021. “We had the best intentions,” said Dalsin. “COVID-19 threw a major wrench into all of our long-term plans, as did three months of flooding last year, when we normally at most have a month. Unfortunately it means a lot of things we wanted to deliver to the public we just could not do.”
Pittman also asked if $25,000 of the $461,000 the village received last November for COVID-19 recovery costs could be used for a study: “It’s about a reopening after COVID.” Dalsin said it could be discussed during budget talks.
During question period, several members of the public asked about the pool, specifically whether it would open this year and whether there would be public consultation before such a decision was made. Talarico said there was no answer to the question about when the pool would open, and that no grants for upgrades or remedial action to the pool have been applied for. “We won’t know what those will be until we have a study done on the pool to see where we’re at. That recommendation will be followed by a grant application if council wishes.”
In answer to a query as to why council has not allocated money annually to go towards the pool, Talarico replied that was a really good question. “If they go and look at our financial statements they’ll understand what our financial situation is in the municipality. The public has heard me say numerous times this evening we’re not going to make a decision on that pool until the 2021, 2022, and 2023 budgets are looked at closely. We’ve been operating at a deficit since 2017, maybe earlier than that, and we’re not going to go there. We’re not going to continue to run this municipality at a deficit. Period.”
Another reply addressed a question about why the village had operated the pool for free when lifeguards are expensive, with Talarico saying that past councils had their reasons for making that recommendation.
The Journal asked when a public meeting about the pool would be held to ascertain what the public wanted, given that staff and/or council had publicly promised one in May 2019, September 2019, and May 2020. Talarico said council has been in the midst of coping with several different things and are recouping from that at the present time, and once again mentioned the necessity of looking at the 2021, 2022, and 2023 budgets first.