By Tina Alvey
City council put its money where its mouth is, allocating $11,500 toward the first year’s operating expenses of a controversial swimming pool at New River Community and Technical College’s Greenbrier Valley campus.
The Greenbrier County Commission’s decision to rehabilitate the indoor pool, using $1.3 million in hotel/motel tax revenue, is being challenged in court, and it now appears two of the three commissioners may be on the verge of canceling its lease to manage the proposed aquatic center.
“Right now, we have two commissioners against (the pool project),” county recreation director Roy Grimes told council members Tuesday.
He asked the city to contribute financially toward the project in the hope that such “positive support” would convince the county commission to stay the course and operate the pool for public use.
During a meeting last week, the commission tabled an agenda item that involved the pool lease agreement, which was struck when former Commissioner Betty Crookshanks — a strong supporter of the aquatic center project — was still in office.
The seat Crookshanks formerly held is now occupied by Woody Hanna, who has expressed qualms about the wisdom of the county’s long-term investment in operating a swimming pool. Commissioner Michael McClung has consistently opposed the project.
Grimes presented city council with a tentative budget for the pool, acknowledging that the figures change on a nearly daily basis and should, therefore, be considered only “ballpark” amounts.
Council member Mark Etten, who chairs the city’s finance committee, expressed frustration with the size of that ballpark after asking Grimes if $186,000 in projected revenue for the pool was a reliable number.
Grimes responded that annual revenue would probably be nearer to “90-some thousand” than $186,000.
“That’s a hard way to run a business if your revenue is off by 50 percent,” Etten said, questioning whether the aquatic center would be truly self-sufficient, as Grimes had earlier asserted.
The tentative operating budget presented to council showed first-year expenses of more than $200,000, a figure that included such start-up costs as acquisition of equipment and supplies and installation of a security system. Grimes predicted the annual expenses from year two onward would be closer to $120,000, but conceded that estimate did not include liability insurance or any employee-related expenses beyond hourly wages.
Grimes said he expects the aquatic center to be ready to open in the fall, but it could be as late as December.
Pleading the pool’s case, Grimes said, “We offer a service to the community.”
He said the payoff to Lewisburg and the rest of the county would come in the form of better health for the citizenry and more recreational opportunities for people of all ages.
After a discussion that lasted more than 30 minutes, council voted unanimously to approve the $11,500 allocation recommended by Mayor John Manchester. The money will come from the city’s contingency fund and be channeled through the Parks Department in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Manchester based the figure on the theory that Lewisburg, with 9.26 percent of the county’s population within its corporate limits, should offer financial support in approximately the same proportion to the estimated regular annual pool budget of $120,000.
Etten emphasized that the city’s decision to donate funds in the upcoming fiscal year does not imply a commitment to continue funding the aquatic center in the future.
Following the vote approving the allocation, Council member Andrew Evans told Grimes, “Pass on the word that the city of Lewisburg is behind the project.”
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