Opinion

Navigating COVID challenges and addressing aquatics center

The interior of Central Municipal Pool is seen from atop the high-dive Jan. 3, 2019.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian, file

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis around the world. It has drastically affected our country and our state. Comparably, here in our county and in Cape Girardeau we have fared better than most.

As we begin to reopen our city and local businesses, please continue to follow the guidelines where possible. Social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing will be with us for awhile. It is still a matter of common sense and individual responsibility.

I cannot say that it is back to normal business, but your city council is meeting back in City Hall.

We have many decisions to make that will help guide the future of Cape Girardeau. One of those is the issue of aquatics, which has been lingering for two years.

The Parks/Stormwater renewal was passed in 2018. As part of this, citizens approved $6 million for a new aquatics center. The only viable partner in such a venture turned out to be the Cape Public School District with whom the city has partnered for more than 40 years.

Having only $10 million total available, we could not build a huge complex. After thorough investigation, two committees and two different consultants, the best fit for our city is the two-pool concept.

We get a smaller leisure-type facility for educational and community use and a 50-meter competition facility for those uses also. But the biggest and most important factor is that in the end, after a thorough analysis of expenses and revenue, its subsidy is a manageable number.

Consultants originally estimated that number to be up to $750,000 to $1 million more for the city's portion than it was already paying to subsidize operations. With a new agreement, sharing costs on a 50/50 basis (with exception of summer, June and July), the city's portion will be about $100,000 more. This is a subsidy that is justified to offer aquatics not only to our city, but to those who visit it also. Cape Public Schools will begin construction at Jefferson Elementary later this year, and we as a council need to finalize our new partnership as soon as possible. It was on our agenda Monday. The renovations at the Central pool will not begin until the new pool is up and running. So it will not be until fiscal year 2024-25 until both pools are completed.

Council has many financial decisions to make in the upcoming two years to solve our current issue of declining sales tax revenue. We are very lucky that our charter and past councils have us in excellent financial shape to handle this COVID-19 crisis with adequate emergency funds.

On Monday night, the council approved a resolution to allow use of the emergency funds to make up for impending loss revenue. Council also temporarily changed our policy on spending casino revenue to pay back the money borrowed from these funds.

We will get through this successfully, and we will develop a plan for the future. Stay tuned and keep abreast of the issues, but most of all, please stay healthy.

Bob Fox is the mayor of the City of Cape Girardeau.

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