Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey has heard the community’s pleas for a pool and he’s had enough, demanding an answer by next summer.
“There is a lot of angst,” he said.
During the July 22 council meeting, he demanded the town “explore every option to provide a place to swim whether it be Taylor Pool or an alternate pool,” by next summer.
For years, the town’s Taylor Pool has sunk into disrepair as councils struggled to keep the lights on after the 2008 recession. While other areas of Arizona recovered, Payson continued to cinch its budget belt until the council under Mayor Craig Swartwood increased the sales tax. The move lost him the election, but allowed the town to resume routine maintenance.
Parks, however, remain an issue. Taylor Pool particularly suffered as council after council told managers to Band-Aid and duct tape to keep it open. Then the pandemic hit, and the council closed Taylor Pool for fear of COVID and ongoing maintenance issues.
Before opening this year, town staff did an analysis of the pool’s condition in the spring. The study spurred Town Manager Troy Smith to condemn Taylor Pool as unsafe.
During the July 22 meeting, Councilor Jolynn Schinstock wondered why the council and community didn’t address the pool maintenance earlier when town staff reported the dilapidated state of the pool.
“Where was the community two years ago?” she asked.
Councilor Jim Ferris echoed her concerns.
“I asked about two years ago if we had a plan and assessment of the pool. Here we are today,” he said. “We don’t have a pool designer or engineer ... Why don’t we at least get an assessment?”
Two years ago, town staff reported that the pool was on its last legs. Much of the machinery used to filter and heat the pool could no longer be replaced. The council at the time told staff to shore it up and move on. The neglect caused so much damage the pool needs a complete overhaul now.
Schinstock reminded the council that during budget negotiations this year that they had agreed to explore a partnership with the MHA Foundation (and the other organizations working with it) for a new pool. During those budget negotiations, Smith told the council they had to choose — either invest in an outdoor pool or throw in with the indoor option because the town could not afford to maintain both.
The council agreed an indoor pool was better than an outdoor pool limited by weather. They decided to explore a partnership with the MHA Foundation to build a park and community center with an indoor aquatic center in the northeast quadrant of Payson. Those negotiations have only just begun.
Schinstock said she would not support town funding going toward fixing Taylor Pool, “unless you have a private citizen (that) can give $2 million.”
In fact, there just might be a funding angel in town.
At a town hall on July 19 to discuss the park/community center partnership, members of the public mentioned someone in town offered $100,000 to bring Taylor Pool back online.
Ferris said he’s heard of someone with an engineering background that would offer their services for free.
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian asked town staff to reach out to see if these offers were true.
“This could be something to get going,” she said.
Schinstock said she understands that the community wants a pool sooner rather than later.
She asked, “What can we do as a town to help fast track the planning?”
She said she asked Kenny Evans, president of the MHA Foundation, how long it might be before their community center and pool would open.
“Two years is what they said,” said Schinstock.
Smith said he can “visit with MHA and RCEA (Rim Country Educational Alliance)” to figure out the options.
This stirred Morrissey to protest he didn’t think any deal with the MHA Foundation has been finalized. He would like “to provide someplace for folks to swim next summer.”
Morrissey wondered if the town could make a deal with the Tonto Apache Tribe or the golf communities of Chaparral Pines or The Rim Club to provide access to their pools for the swim team and public.
“Perhaps something would work out ... I believe there are options out there,” he said. “My point was to provide someplace for folks to swim next summer.”