When ballots hit mailboxes at the end of April, MRSD voters will make a choice: do they want to keep our approximately $2.5 million Molalla Aquatic Center, or let it go?

Almost three years ago, in May 2014, the city administrators announced they were looking at closing the pool at year-end due to funding shortfalls. In reaction, a group of about 25 gathered at the Molalla Grange to discuss next steps, and the current Friends of Molalla Pool organization was launched.

We naively thought we were going to function as boosters: selling T-shirts, holding fundraisers, and helping to publicize pool events. But we learned that the funding arrangement for the pool was not, never had been, and never would be sustainable.

Research and pounding the pavement

Aside from user fees, which contributed about 20 percent, (in line with public pools nationwide), the financial burden fell on taxpayers within the Molalla city limits, despite the pool drawing from a much larger area. The math being what it was, the city closed the pool in October 2014.

Ever optimistic, our motley group started exploring. It wasn't about how to supplement an existing system anymore. The question was: How do we completely rethink the pool? We were in for a crash course in public pool operations.

We met countless times with city officials, Molalla City Council, school district officials, and the Molalla River School District board.

We met with the Santiam YMCA, which manages pools in Silverton and Stayton, and toured their facilities.

With city and MRSD officials, we met with the Columbia-Willamette YMCA at their Sherwood facility. We looked at proposals from both Ys to operate the Molalla pool.

We learned how the Tigard-Tualatin School District had spun off its two pools into a successful aquatic district - better for the pools and the schools - and started to look more closely at the pool district option.

We poured through budgets from seven different pool operators, line by line, to create a composite, realistic budget for what a Molalla Aquatic District might need to operate.

For part of that time, the school district and city stepped away to work out their contractual differences. That behind them, they agreed to co-sponsor – just once – a measure to create a separate district, and we promised to do the legwork.

In late August 2016, the petition was ready, and our little group had about five weeks to collect about 1,800 signatures. Almost 50 people came together and gathered more than 2400 signatures! A few people told us later that they didn't think we could do it, but over the past two years, our group has learned we could accomplish amazing things together.

The Ballot Measure

It's now April 2017, and Measure 3-516 is on the May ballot.

The measure asks to create a Molalla Aquatic District and is based on sound research and important principles of proper budgeting, fairness, and responsibility. Key points:

- $.29 per $1000 of assessed value reflects how much funding the pool needs, based on careful comparative budgets. The rate can be lowered, as Tigard-Tualatin has done, but can't be raised without a new vote.

- Spreads cost across MRSD – the same people who paid to build the pool and enjoyed using it -- rather than just city residents.

- An elected, unpaid board of five local people will provide oversight and fiduciary guidance in the pool's best interest.

Consider these points

When ballots hit mailboxes at the end of April, MRSD voters will make a choice: do they want to keep our approximately $2.5 million facility (the cost in 2000), or let it go?

As you ponder your ballot, I would ask that you consider the following points:

1) Safety. A local pool makes it easier for children and adults to learn to swim. There are many streams and rivers around us, and too many people have drowned over the years.

2) Health and recreation for all ages and stages. Beyond swim lessons, the pool can offer activities like baby & me, recreational swim, youth and high school swim teams, workouts for lap swimmers and triathletes, and safe, low-impact exercise for those who are elderly, injured or with limited mobility -- not to mention the great space for birthday parties and meetings.

3) Protect our existing investment! We are so lucky to have a beautiful pool already -- and it's paid off! We have an opportunity now to re-open it for the price of a couple of lattes a month.

4) Ongoing support. FOMP is not going anywhere.

I'm not asking for me. I'm not using a pool these days, though I have in the past, and know I will again. I just know pools can improve the safety, health and quality of life for all area residents, including many people I know.

Over the past months I've made friends, learned volumes, and talked with hundreds of residents who say they want the pool too. I'm in! I hope you are too.

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