Petition committee

Diane Burt (standing), chairman of the petition committee working to get signatures for a Bingham County recreation district, listens to a comment during a meeting Thursday night.

BLACKFOOT — The effort to gather signatures on petitions to form and pass a recreation district to allow more Bingham County citizens an opportunity to back the indoor Blackfoot Swimming Pool gained steam Thursday night.

A steering committee and the petition committee both met at Dawn Enterprises to discuss their efforts, with an emphasis on staying positive and making sure they follow rules to the letter.

“We need to make sure people understand this is a regional thing instead of a city thing,” former Blackfoot mayor Mike Virtue told the steering committee. “We’ve got to work together on this. We’ve got to make sure people understand that through a levy, we are saving the cost of interest and a bond fee. The money put toward this would actually be earning interest.”

The proposed pool district would include voting precincts in the Blackfoot, Snake River, and Firth school districts. Virtue said the Aberdeen district would not be included because Aberdeen residents are closer to Pocatello pool facilities, and Shelley would not be included because the city already has its own municipal pool.

Virtue told the steering committee that it needs to be ensured that criteria to sign a petition is clear and is on the petition itself, and those gathering petitions need to make sure everyone signing is registered to vote and lives within the district boundaries or their signatures will be tossed out.

The committee has a goal to get 1,000 signatures per month over the next three months in order to get the issue on the ballot in November.

They expect to have pamphlets with information explaining the issue within a week.

“We want to make sure everything is above-board,” Virtue said.

He added that the panel behind saving the pool would be willing to sit down with members of another group called “Think Bigger Blackfoot” which has proposed a recreational district for other uses in order to reach some common ground.

The committee moving to save the pool is emphasizing that this latest movement is geared toward saving and building instead of bonding and borrowing.

Virtue said the estimated annual cost to the taxpayer in the recreational district would be a tax of $40 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value per year, with a tax levy for the recreation district being .04 percent, noting that the maximum allowed by law is .06 percent. The levy would generate $550,000 per year.

If the levy passes, Virtue said, the district would be administered by a board of representatives elected within the levy district. It would prioritize improvements and authorize expenditures to expedite pool reopening to meet all appropriate safety requirements, he said.

The board would oversee the pool operation, decisions, and oversight of the funds invested into the pool, with revenue limitations prescribing the repair and replacement schedule, Virtue added.

The committee anticipates it taking about two years to reopen the pool once funds are in place, and the recreation district may be eligible for additional grant funds once it is reopened to assist in upgrades.

There was concern expressed in the petition committee meeting about taxing residents in the agricultural areas who would stand to pay a higher amount based on their land. Virtue admitted that those residents would be paying the same amount.

“I understand and I have sympathy,” he said. “But for these purposes, there will be a direct one-to-one relationship.”