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Majority of council maintains support for aquatic facility

More than one year after an indoor aquatics facility was approved, Mitchell's City Councilors stand firm behind their votes in support or opposition of the project.

More than one year after an indoor aquatics facility was approved, Mitchell's City Councilors stand firm behind their votes in support or opposition of the project.

Of the seven current council members, each elected official stood behind last year's 5-3 vote to approve the pool project following a 4-4 split vote to move forward with a new city hall.

Council members Dan Allen, Marty Barington, Steve Rice, Jeff Smith and Susan Tjarks remain supportive of the proposed $8 million facility that was referred to a vote in September while Councilmen Mel Olson and Dave Tronnes are opposed. Former Councilman Randy Doescher represented the final vote in opposition of the pool.

As Mitchell voters take to the polls Tuesday at the Corn Palace, Olson questions the council's 5-3 vote that shifted funds from a new city hall to an indoor pool in 2014.

"Somehow a city hall that we could not afford at $5 million and change got turned into an $8 million and change pool," Olson said.

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But Barington, who has supported both a new city hall and a pool project, said the city is on solid financial ground to move forward with the aquatic facility. Barington said some of his constituents have concerns with the project's $8 million price tag, but many change their mind when Barington assures them the council would not bring the project forward if Mitchell weren't in the financial state to afford the project.

"After they hear that the money and funding is there to move forward, support it and pay for it, most people are supportive," Barington said.

The facility, which would feature a 75-foot by 82-foot competitive lap pool and a separate 1,200-square foot leisure pool, includes about $6 million in city funding plus $1 million generated from an additional nightly tax on hotels in Mitchell and a $1 million pledge from the Mitchell Aquatic Club.

Olson, who signed the petition to refer the aquatic facility to the ballot, said the city has other areas to utilize the city funds. Olson said the city has some infrastructure needs he believes would be a better use of the funds, referencing a water main break at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Minnesota Street that he said cost some homeowners more than $15,000 in water damage in August.

But Olson is in the minority among his fellow council members.

Tjarks expects the project to boost the Mitchell economy far more than a new city hall ever could.

"That would have been a facility that would have been utilized by basically no one in our community and it would have had zero economic impact," Tjarks said about a new city hall.

Most of Tjarks' cohorts on the council agreed.

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Along with Tjarks, Allen and Rice see the proposed facility as a way to attract people to Mitchell in the winter months.

"Instead of running to Sioux Falls and taking your kids there in the winter time, let's stay in Mitchell," Allen said.

Smith agreed the facility could have a positive economic impact by hosting at least two swim meets each year. Over the past few years, the MAC has been forced to host winter meets in Huron, Pierre and Sioux Falls.

While the majority of the council stands behind the pool, Olson has one other supporter.

Like Olson, Tronnes supports the project being put to a public vote, claiming those who "pay the bills" should make the final decision. Tronnes also pointed to the project's lack of a final design and proper planning similar to circumstances he believes led to issues during the Corn Palace.

Tronnes also questioned whether the revenue generated from the project could rise above its costs. Although Tronnes assumes there will be some positive impact to the city as visitors will spend money on food, gas and hotels, he's not sure if the city's return on investment will be profitable.

With most of the council choosing sides before the election, two city officials who weren't involved in last year's vote will remain neutral on the vote.

Mayor Jerry Toomey decided not to pick a side in an effort not to influence the vote. But he did say he'd like to see the funding spent on infrastructure, Main Street or Lake Mitchell if the vote fails.

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Bev Robinson, who was recently chosen as Doescher's replacement as Ward 2's second representative, also decided against announcing her support or opposition of the project.

"At this time, I'm just going to leave it up to the public and see what they decide, then we'll go from there," Robinson said.

Final predictions

Most of the council was cautious in making a prediction on the result of Tuesday's vote.

Smith said he is hoping for a victory for the pool, but made no guarantees, and Tjarks is optimistic the city will vote yes. Allen said reaction is mixed in his ward, but thinks the facility has enough support to pass.

As an opponent of the project, Olson said weather on election day could be the determining factor.

"If we have weather like this, I think it probably passes," Olson said on Monday during a two-day snowstorm in Mitchell. "If we have good weather it probably fails."

Tronnes declined to speculate Tuesday's results, but said he would accept the voters' decision.

"I do know that the sun will rise on December 9th no matter which way the voters choose, and Mitchell will continue to be a great place to live," Tronnes said.

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