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Borough Council Could Ask Residents to Decide Pool's Fate

Mayor: 'Why not let the people decide directly?'

After much debate, it's possible voters throughout Chatham Borough could ultimately decide whether the Memorial Park pool should be kept open.

The Borough Council will decide Monday night—tonight—whether to submit the question of what to do with the much-maligned pool to a November voter referendum. Residents would vote on whether they feel property taxes should be increased to support pool renovations.

It could potentially do so. Under the right circumstances, Mayor Nelson Vaughan said he would support such a move.

"I personally think it's a good idea, as long as it's a good question that fairly represents what's going on," Vaughan said.

The Memorial Park and Pool Committee, which has been working on the issue, recommended to the council July 12 a plan that would cost $785,000. That would include full-scale improvements to both the pool, which has been deteriorating for years, and to the surrounding fields.

The main field would be expanded and other areas associated with the field would be given a makeover. About 25 parking spaces would also likely be added to the area.

Council members have determined, however, that the borough does not have enough money to fund both the pool and park projects.

There is about $430,000 in a fund for Memorial Park, and Councilman James Lonergan said that money will be used for park improvements.

The pool renovation issue, however, remains unsolved. Lonergan said the $430,000 in Memorial Park funds will not be used for the pool. The money, he said, was never intended to be used for those purposes.

"The whole thing was not for the pool," he said. "It was for the park."

Other sources of funding—such as an Open Space fund, which totals about $800,000—will also not be tapped for pool repairs.

"There's not a bunch of money sitting there to be used," Lonergan said.

Because there is no money for the pool, Lonergan said, the borough could put the issue to voters in the form of a referendum.

The council will vote tonight on whether to place the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot. It has said no more than $400,000 in tax dollars would be spent on the matter.

A draft of the question that would be put to voters reads: "Shall the Borough of Chatham construct improvements to the municipal pool located at Memorial Park at a cost not to exceed $400,000, by increasing local property taxes to pay for such project, and continue to operate the pool at an operating loss that is funded by general tax revenues?"

Under the improvement plan proposed by the Memorial Park and Pool Committee, the kiddie pool would be moved over and elevated to become level with the current pool. A spray area, such as an umbrella, would be added to the kiddie pool as well. Mechanical problems associated with the current structure would be fixed, the large pool would be resurfaced and fencing would be replaced.

Vaughan said he would be optimistic about the referendum's chances if it is presented to residents.

"Frankly, I think it has a good chance of passing," he said. "It may just be the best way to do it."

Lonergan said, however, that if such a referendum is placed on the ballot and not passed by more than a 50 percent majority, the pool would likely be shuttered.

The pool has been in less-than-ideal shape for decades, however. And Vaughan said it is high time to determine whether the town ultimately supports keeping it open.

"It's been kicked around for 30 some odd years," he said. "Why not let the people decide directly?"

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