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Survey says: People want pool
August 16, 2013

Community center clarification

Mount Vernon city administrator Mike Beimer is clarifying information distributed about the proposed community center, including in the Sun story last week.

It's been reported that 20-year local option sales tax approved by voters in 2011 could bring in $2.5 million for a community center.

Beimer said the actual amount is estimated at $1.5 million. It could be more if the Cedar Rapids metro area passes the tax.

The $2.5 million reported is what Beimer projects the city could bond for for a community center, without going over the city's debt limit.

Jennifer Pandich & Jake Krob

Sun news

An indoor pool is the No. 1 amenity respondents of a survey want in Mount Vernon's proposed community/wellness center.

Preliminary results from the survey, which was sent by the city to all households in the city and returned by 438, were unveiled last week to the city council by Deb Herrmann, former president of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group (CDG) and a longtime community center committee member.

Having an indoor pool topped the list of desires from responses, with 63 percent ranking it as a 5 (very interested) or 4 (somewhat interested).

Herrmann noted that other items "in the hunt" are a fitness area, indoor track, gymnasium and multi purpose room.

She added "the results are remarkably similar to those collected" in previous surveys, including one in 2003 in which 177 of 200 responses ranked an indoor pool as the highest priority.

Long discussed in the city, the community center is on the city's five-year capital improvement plan for Fiscal Year 2015. The city hired Mount Vernon-based Sauter Baty and Associates, for a fee of up to $58,500, to do preliminary design work. Voters in 2011 approved a 20-year extension of a local option sales tax, with 25 percent of the revenue going toward a community center. That's estimated to bring in $2.5 million. There's been $400,000 from a previous local option sales tax earmarked for the project. The rest of the funding would come from grants and donations. Estimates of a facility have been as high as $6 million.

The survey is one tool the city is using to "have an indication of people's interests," Herrmann said.

It was developed with the help of Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College. The city sent out 1,470 surveys and received 438, for a response of about 30 percent.

Calling the response rate "phenomenal," Hassell said it "gives it a lot of validity as the city moves forward in its consideration of the project." He pointed out that the response total is almost as much as the number of people who turned out to vote in city council elections in 2009.

"If you consider that we sent only one survey per household and many households contain more than one voter, the return rate probably exceeded the total number of individuals who participated in the city council elections," Hassell said.

Based on population and response rate, Hassell figures the poll has about a 3.8 percent margin of error.

Resident Mary Wallace asked at the city council meeting last week if comments people wrote on the survey would be included in the final results.

Herrmann said all information submitted would be included in the final tabulation.

She added that there are "a lot of misconceptions on the street," and several respondents were "very interested" in learning more about operational costs.

The city reports that the survey results will be used to estimate operational costs and revenue from user fees, and Sauter-Baty will use the data for preliminary design work.

The possibility of bonding for the facility was also brought up in Herrmann's report to the city council. An election would be needed to borrow in advance of receiving local option sales tax revenue, and would require 60 percent approval from those voting.

Council member Slaton Anthony said he reads the survey results to say that it "seems to be sort of tracking around 60 percent (support) for an indoor pool."

"Yes, I would concur," Herrmann said.

Mayor Scott Peterson said "we'll have more discussion and public discussion as well" about the proposed project.

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