Waterloo Citizens for a Pool hosted a town hall meeting last Wednesday night in the Waterloo High School auditorium to discuss results of the recent marketing survey completed by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville students for the nonprofit.
The few dozen people in attendance – including several school board and city council members – heard WCP’s two main takeaways from the study: Waterloo residents want a pool or aquatic facility and they are willing to pay more for it.
That claim is based on a few data points from the survey, which over 80 SIUE marketing students completed in December after WCP reached out to see if the university could assist it in its efforts to bring a public pool back to Waterloo.
WCP formed in 2016 – about four years after the Sondag City Pool closed.
The SIUE survey aimed to gauge several important factors, like interest in a pool or aquatic facility and the public’s attitude regarding being taxed to pay for a pool.
The online survey was completed by 459 people, which was more than double the amount desired for a representative sample size.
The WCP promoted the survey on its social media platforms, via email and in the Republic-Times.
The meeting, which also touched on how Waterloo’s comprehensive plan included pro-pool data, was the first time the nonprofit publicly discussed the survey results.
The most important of which was that the community, based on these 459 responses, wants a pool.
Just over 89 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that building an aquatic facility would have a positive impact on the community.
Similarly, 65.4 percent of people said they would be extremely likely to use an aquatic facility or pool in Waterloo and that it would be much better than other attractions or activities.
Additionally, 31.2 percent of people said they participate in aquatic activities 11-20 times a year, while 23.1 percent indicated they do so 21-30 times a year.
“There are pools popping up all over the place for individual homes, and there’s a reason why: there’s not one here,” WCP President Kim Ahne said.
Roughly 57 percent of individuals disagreed or strongly disagreed that a standalone splash pad, which is planned, would satisfy their household’s aquatic needs.
Nevertheless, the WCP commended the Waterloo Park District for securing a $400,000 grant for that feature.
“This is a great starting point for our children,” Ahne said.
Not only did the survey show residents want a pool, it showed they are willing to pay for it in one of two ways.
One option, which 85 percent of respondents agreed with, would be to extend the Waterloo Park District’s taxing area to include all of the 62298 zip code instead of just the city limits.
According to data Ahne obtained from the Monroe County Assessor’s Office, doing that would increase the tax base by 4,011 parcels, upping tax money collected by $205,990 annually under the current tax rate.
Over 15 years, which is the typical time for a pool bond, that would give the park district almost $3.1 million more. That is on the low end of estimated pool costs.
Ahne said the idea is worth considering.
“In everyday life, we have to look outside the box to do things,” he reasoned. “In business, with our children, we’re always questioning ‘how can we do something better.’”
Another funding option would be to raise the tax rate.
The park district’s current tax rate is .12643 percent. On average, survey respondents said they were willing to pay a tax rate of .178 percent.
For a $200,000 home, the tax bill would go up to roughly $118.67, an increase from $84.71 now.
That would give the park district over $131,100 a year more. If the tax base simultaneously increased, that number goes up to $421,112 more than it currently annually receives.
In addition, upping the tax rate would net the district $6.8 million over 15 years without increasing the taxing area, and $11.1 million with taxing all of 62298.
Those numbers would be $4.8 million under the current tax base and rate and $7.9 million under the current tax rate with the upped base.
Ideally, the pool or aquatic facility would be paid for by a mix of tax dollars, fundraisers and grant money, WCP says.
But only a taxing entity, like the city or park district, can apply for many of those grants.
Similarly, only a taxing entity can put the question of raising the tax rate, increasing the tax base or building a pool to voters.
So, WCP’s next step is to continue lobbying those governments to get one to back these efforts with the goal of having a pool referendum in 2021.
Individuals can help with that effort by contacting the park district or their aldermen.
For more information, including full survey results and WCP’s upcoming 5K fundraiser on March 14, visit waterloopool.com. A video of the meeting will also be available online.