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Helper council affirms commitment to construct pool

Sun Advocate reporter

Donations fill a piggy bank at a Helper business. Helper's pool committee has been looking for sources of funding both large and small. In addition to asking community members for donations, the city has applied for money from the CIB and plans to levy a fee on each water or electricity in the city.

Members of the Helper council stood by the decision to accept a grant and loan from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board to fund the city's proposed swimming pool project, despite opposition voiced by residents at a regular public meeting on July 21.

The CIB has told Helper officials that the city should expect to receive $300,000 in the form of a grant and $692,000 in the form of a 30-year, zero-interest loan.

The payments on that loan would require Helper to pay just over $23,000 annually.

The initial decision to accept the funding was made on June 16. At that time, residents voiced their concern over how the council planned to pay for the pool.

The council voted in June to levy a surcharge to all residents on Helper. A total of $5 was approved at the meeting.

Of the money in question, $3 was to go to the pool, generating an estimated $36,000 annually. The other $2 of the surcharge would go to the Rio Theater and city employees.

The decision was altered at the council meeting last Thursday.

Kirk Mascaro moved to rescind the additional $2 for employees and the theater.

After the council voted to approve the motion, the $3 stands, but will not be assessed until the city has accepted the loan officially.

"We've been accused of making decisions behind closed doors. That has not been done at all," said Mayor Joe Bonacci.

The mayor added that opposition to the pool has been raised at the last minute.

Bonacci reminded residents that the pool is not a new idea. The project has been covered by local media and a pool planning committee has met weekly for the last year.

"Trepidation on this issue will harm Helper," said Helper resident Dave Dornan.

Dorman said he supported the pool and urged the council to make a decision and then follow through with it.

The mayor pointed out that no plans for the pool have been finalized.

A conceptual plan has served as a basis for determining how much the project will cost.

However, no architects or engineers have finalized plans for the project.

"The only decision that has been made has been to accept the grant and loan," said Bonacci.

Citizens who attended the meeting raised the question as to why the city hadn't refurbished and renovated the current facility.

Councilmember Bob Farrell said the costs of renovating the pool would be greater than the costs of building a new one.

John Jones, a member of the community committee, pointed out that the pool in Helper is among the oldest outdoor facilities in the state.

In addition, the city paid for renovation at the pool in the early 1990s.

Additional renovation would add just 10 years to the life of the facility, explained Jones.

Helper officials will need to appear before the CIB to accept the funding and defend the city's application for the grant and loan money.

"If we can build it for $500,000, that's what we'll do," said Bonacci.

The mayor explained that, if construction of the pool comes in under budget, the city would not need to use all of the loan and grant money offered by the state CIB panel.

In another matter, P.J. Jensen updated the council on the current status of the addition to the Helper Western Mining and Railroad Museum. Bids on the project had been higher than expected. As a result, Jensen and others at the museum have shifted their focus back to fundraising.

The museum originally started as a plan to increase access to the museum by adding an elevator and a few other additions. The state then offered to make the museum an official repository for state archives. Those archives would include records of carbon county government and the cities in the county.

As the plan progressed, the project grew in magnitude and cost.

Jensen said grants for the museum currently total around $500,000 dollars. The project is expected to cost $300,000 to $400,000 more than that amount. The primary funding is from the CIB, with other funds coming from the state department of transportation and other sources.

The night prior to the council meeting, Jensen appeared before the Carbon County Commission. The commission pledged $70,000 toward the museum that night.

In the commission meeting, Commissioner Mike Milovich had suggested that the city work to pay off one of their loans and then apply for a supplemental loan from the CIB.

Presently, Helper is unable to apply for more loans. The loan on the pool will put the city at its bonding limit. According to a statute in the Utah Constitution, cities are unable to incur debt in excess of four percent of the value of the taxable property of the city.

The county had previously offered Helper $200,000 toward their pool. If the city used that to pay off its loans, it could increase its ability to incur loans.

Milovich explained to Jensen that he had seen projects such as the museum delayed. Those delays have often resulted in an increased cost to the project.

"In my opinion this is one of the most important things you can do for the community and the state," said Milovich, stressing that that was his personal belief and that he wasn't dictating what Helper should do regarding the matter.

While county officials urged Jensen and the city to make the museum a priority, Helper's city council made no motion on the matter. The decision to delay construction while trying to secure funds, as passed by the city council on July 7, remains in effect.

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