More than 71 percent of respondents to the Village of DeForest’s recent Park and Open Spaces survey want a community pool.
“That’s almost double anything else in there combined, but we don’t want to have the conversation or make the commitment to fund this thing,” said Trustee Jason Kramar. “I think we need to take a serious look at getting this thing done – not in the next two years, but get the plan in place.”
That prompted a discussion of possibly going to referendum to decide the matter.
The survey results and summary were presented to the village’s board committee of the whole on Tuesday, July 16. In her summary, Public Services Director Kelli Bialkowski noted that there were 980 survey respondents, compared to 301 in 2015.
Village officials were pleased with those numbers, although Village President Judd Blau noted that some respondents were not from DeForest.
“Nonetheless, it is encouraging,” said Blau. “I like it. I’m excited to get started on some of these things.”
In her report, Bialkowski highlighted some of the survey’s findings, writing that people expressed an overall satisfaction with the village’s park system and that a community pool continues to be something residents desire.
Some commented on the lack of basketball hoops at Fireman’s Park and were dissatisfied with their condition. People were also generally unhappy with fishing access, despite having an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant fishing dock at Sunfish Pond.
Interest in tennis/pickleball facilities is also strong, as residents also supported efforts to get play equipment at Sunnybrook Park. Bialkowski wrote that this seems to be a shift in thinking from when the subdivision was initially built, as her understanding was that residents initially protested play equipment there. She explained that the neighborhood is likely turning over and that Western Green Park is the closest option for play equipment.
As for the teenage demographic, Bialkowski explained how it is challenging to find programming for this group, adding that more basketball courts at Fireman’s Park will help.
Bialkowski told trustees that a capital improvements program is being formed with a parks component. Some things she identified as likely improvements coming soon were a new splash pad, tennis/pickle ball facilities and the Sunnybrook play equipment.
Most of the debate at the July 16 meeting centered around the community’s appetite for a pool.
“I do think if we’re going to have this pool discussion, we should try to look at centralizing that pool,” said Trustee Jeff Miller. “I still look at this park over here, maybe that’s where we should be looking. Secondly, if we’re going to do this, then why not get out and put it to referendum and ask our residents, ‘Do you want a pool? Here’s what it’s going to cost.’ We shouldn’t be afraid of that. The school district did it with a very large referendum and it passed, so I think we may be surprised. So, if our residents truly want it, then why not put it out there and ask that question.”
Miller cautioned that operational costs would need to part of a pool referendum.
“Understand we’re going to be subsidizing it for years,” said Miller.
A previous non-binding referendum, held Nov. 8, 2016, showed 51 percent of voters favored a pool.
“So that started us down a path of working with school district and Windsor,” said Blau. “The school district didn’t want anything to do with that, and Windsor didn’t want anything to with it either. So that’s where it’s been at, waiting for responses back from school district. We finally got it recently, so it’s a matter of putting it together and how much land do we need and the dollars and cents.”
Blau said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the athletic complex project, where it takes 12 years to put in a pool.
Trustee Jane Cahill Wolfgram favors a referendum that includes potential costs of a pool and where it would be located.
“I think there are people who will use it in the central part of the community,” said Cahill Wolfgram. “They’ll ride bikes to it. They’ll be here. It won’t be accessible if it’s out on the outskirts somewhere.“
Fellow Trustee Colleen Little also liked the idea of going to referendum, saying that residents would probably be okay with an increase of $25 in their taxes. It’s uncertain if the public would approve anything more than that.
“This is going to cost some money, and I think we need to put some numbers out there, so they know what it’s going to cost and there are no surprises,” said Little.
Trustee Abigail Lowery said she wouldn’t be opposed to a referendum in this case. She wants to see a policy enacted where any project costing more than $2 million that is not an essential service would automatically trigger a referendum.
“So I think the residents have made clear in this survey that they want a pool,” said Lowery. “My only concern with that is finances. We do have $6 million tied up with the athletic complex and it’s a very big project, but I do think the pool should be somewhere in our capital projects plan and just keep in mind where our finances are at with the athletic complex.”
Bialkowski said she was on staff for the last pool referendum. She said it felt awkward, explaining that a full study beforehand would have been ideal. Knowing the costs, needs and land options in any kind of pool referendum is important, she said.
“My thought is to just have it a little more vetted out. I don’t do pools every day,” said Bialkowski. “I don’t have this information. And every site, every community is different, so that takes time is my point. If we want to start to talk when for a referendum, I think I’d like to know more about the study and this sort of thing, too.”