Pool plans tabled for now

How long the dry hole will remain where a pool used to exist in Emmett continues to be unknown.

The likelihood that a replacement of the Gem County Recreation District pool in the Emmett City Park could be a reality by sometime next summer diminished greatly last week. On Thursday the GCRD Board voted to table a definitive decision at this time.

Prompted by additional information received regarding the impact a fee increase could have on a segment of Gem County taxpayers and the resignation of one of the Board’s three members, it was moved to cancel the public hearings scheduled for August 13 and 15.

An informational forum scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Emmett City Hall on Wednesday, August 7 will go on as scheduled to provide the public an opportunity to hear directly from the GCRD leadership and from the architect, lending consultants and legal representation the multitude of variables a pool solution must address.

One of the biggest hurdles the GCRD Board wanted to get more information on was a situation presented to them last week by the Gem County Assessors and Treasurers offices. The fee assessments that fund the GCRD and could have been used to obtain funding for a new construction proposal are on a per household unit, not a property tax based on property valuations. All households receive the same fee.

A portion of the Gem County population is able to get relief on some or all of their property taxes under the circuit breaker property tax reduction. That reduction, however, cannot be applied to assessment fees. The standard fees for the county landfill and the recreation district cannot be reduced by that mechanism. As a result, the net increase that an estimated $44 annual fee increase for a new pool option could amount to as much as 37 percent increase over the current levels.

According to Gem County Treasurer Megan Keene, that seemingly small dollar amount could have catastrophic impact on some of the persons who qualified for some relief on their 2019 total tax billings.

“For some of those who qualify for a full reduction of their property taxes it is significant,” Keene said. “As a household fee assessment it doesn’t qualify for the PTR exemption. For those with a household income of less than $16,400 per year that is significant and most of those are $10,000 or less from Social Security.”

Of those 632 who received circuit breaker relief in 2019, 588 reside in the GCRD assessment area and 39 percent of those fall into that lowest income bracket.

Finding a solution to that dilemma has been at the forefront for GCRD leadership since it was presented to them.

One solution discussed would be changing the method of funding a proposed pool project to a bond rather than the assessment fee increase to fund a lease-purchase option. The bond would convert the household assessment to a levy and by nature would then be eligible for the circuit breaker relief.

The bond, however, would remove the funding from a flat per household basis and would be directly related to property values instead. A bond would also require a two-third majority vote of the voters in the GCRD District.

In order for any funding package to be in place that could make a possible reopening of a pool in the summer of 2020, it would have to be in place by the end of September. Tabling the proposal for a lease-purchase agreement based on a fee raise commitment makes that unlikely.

A bond issue could be presented to the voters in November of this year, if it could be ready by September 16 according to the Gem County Clerks office. Even if it were to pass by a two-third majority in November, it would not be assessed until the following tax year.

Unless private individual donations and grants can be obtained within the next few weeks, the proposed $2.5 million solution that was on the table for discussion will likely be tabled until after the November election and a full three-person board is restored.

Roger Bennie, who has served on the GCRD Board for the past 22 years, submitted his resignation prior to the Thursday meeting and was not in attendance for the motion to table at this time.

GCRD leadership expressed a commitment to continue pursuing a pool solution and continued to ask the community to help explore answers. That was reinforced with their decision to continue with the informational forum on Wednesday.

Applications for the open position on the board are currently available at the GCRD offices. Applications are to be returned by 5 p.m. on Friday, August 9 for consideration for appointment to a term that runs through the end of this year.

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