Who really “needs” a pool?
Many residents and civic leaders in communities across Nebraska believe swimming pools, splash pads, and other aquatic attractions are on the list of local municipal needs.
Now, I’m not here to tell anyone they’re wrong to value having a local swimming pool. Like a lot of shiny objects local government supports, the end result may be really great and appreciated by the public.
But this story from La Vista shows some of the downsides of taxpayer-funded pools as well. Swimming pools need to be maintained and at some point, replaced. In La Vista, the city may ask for $6 million to fund a new pool since the old one is in disrepair, and its current location is wanted for other city purposes.
Every community has to decide for itself whether to prioritize a swimming pool over anything else the money can be used for. Some municipalities may even choose to levy a local sales tax for that purpose, or the pool may be based at a public school that wants to have athletics programs.
Some may argue that if a sales tax is levied, then the issue doesn’t impact a concern like local property taxes, but that’s not totally correct. If taxpayers are willing to pay a sales tax, then any money they spend on the pool can’t be used to pay for other services that would otherwise be funded with the local property tax.
Of course, pools are just one of many examples of the trade-offs involved in funding projects that are nice to have but are not core government services.
In all of these cases, residents and policymakers have to ask themselves if the project is a high priority compared to other community needs, and whether taxpayers are the appropriate funder for the project given all the other things government may be expected to do with our tax dollars.
Government is certainly not the only entity capable of building and maintaining a swimming pool for people who want to swim.