Swimming proposal hung out to dry

Residents didn't want to pay for new pools; one day they won't have any

To the list of messages delivered at the ballot box Tuesday night, add this one, spoken loud and clear: Medford voters are in no mood to pay for new swimming pools. The vote on the $14.5 million bond levy was 55.4 percent no to 44.6 percent yes.

What that means, in the short term, is simple: Medford residents will have to make do with one antiquated pool at Jackson Park that is not adequate to meet the needs of even half the city. City leaders know this. Now their task is convincing residents to step up and provide an important public service.

Hawthorne Pool opened in 1952; Jackson Pool in 1960. Hawthorne is now closed because it was leaking 30,000 gallons of water a day and could not be repaired. Jackson is still operating, but it has problems as well, which city officials say are not repairable.

Some critics faulted the city for failing to maintain the pools it has. There is some justification for that charge, although all the maintenance in the world won't keep a 60-year-old pool operating forever.

The bond measure included a monthly surcharge on city utility bills to cover maintenance costs — a fee that angered some in the community. But that was better, in our view, than leaving future maintenance up to the annual budget process, when such costs often are the first to be deferred when money gets tight.

Jackson Pool will open again next summer, but how long it can continue to operate remains to be seen. Hawthorne Pool continues to take up space in Hawthorne Park, which is scheduled for a makeover.

There was a time when cities provided public amenities such as swimming pools and parks as a matter of course. No one suggested that this was an improper function for government.

Now, critics assert that public swimming pools should be provided by private industry at a profit. The fact that no one has stepped forward to do this, they argue, means there is not enough demand.

This ignores the fact that swimming pools, like other public facilities, are not intended to make a profit. If they were, admission fees would have to be high enough that many residents would not or could not pay them.

A private investor could not charge enough to recover the cost of building the pools. That's why taxpayers were asked to provide the construction money.

Maybe when there is no longer even one public swimming pool in Medford, residents will reconsider their opposition to paying for new ones.

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