Peabody City Council meetings often reveal surprising information and developments. These days the meetings are less lengthy and tedious than they were when I first started covering them 13 years ago. Back then I was in way over my head with engineer reports about bringing water to Peabody from Hillsboro and then later about upgrading the sewer system. Budget discussions took forever. Every council had to make tough choices and meetings rarely ended before 10 p.m.
Things are a bit easier to cover these days, but that is not to say that the news I share with you is better. I am not going to tell you that your water will suddenly run clear from the tap or that the mill levy will drop considerably when the next budget is approved. You won’t see an upswing in repairs to streets, sidewalks, or curb and guttering. City departments will have to continue to make do with the equipment, vehicles, and personnel they have. The budget for 2015 will be as tight as it has been in the past.
I have watched this council keep the mill levy at basically the same amount for several years and I know from attending some of their budget meetings that this is an agonizing process. You should be glad you are not part of that equation.
Monday night the council members reviewed an estimate that really took them by surprise. It seems our swimming pool is in need of a new cover and a new liner. The pool was built in the early 1960s and has been a plus for the community since its construction. It has never paid its way because swimming pools rarely do. They are a part of what is known as “quality of life” features — those things that create no revenue, but that a town wants to have in place for its citizens to enjoy. And here we are about 50 years later with a pool that not only does not pay its own way, but is a drain on the budget.
Can you guess what that new liner and a pool cover might cost? I’ll help you out. Estimates presented Monday evening are $28,000 for the liner (with a whopping three-year guarantee) and $8,000 for a cover (which keeps debris out of the pool in the winter — debris which can compromise the effectiveness of that pricey liner). The 2014 pool budget is in place and you can count on the fact that there is nowhere near $36,000 for those items. It will require some creative financing to cover this little hiccup in the budget. And even if funds are found to take care of this issue, did you see that the liner only has a three-year guarantee? We will be facing this again fairly soon.
I have no answer to this problem. I bet you don’t either. However, you should know it is hanging out there, an albatross around the neck of every city council member. Please think of this the next time you complain about taxes being high in Peabody. Tax revenues allow the city to pay for the things our families need or enjoy. None of us would be able to afford the price of pool admission or the cost of supporting a swim team for our youth if our tax dollars did not cover a big part of the pool budget.
I expect the city council will juggle some projects around during the budget process so the swimming pool will be open this summer and next. They usually figure those things out. However, the cost of supporting it will only rise and eventually some really tough choices about maintaining a swimming pool in Peabody will keep another group of council members awake at night.
— SUSAN MARSHALL