Rock Valley pool referendum

The irreparably damaged Rock Valley Swimming Pool sits empty and unused in May. City residents will vote on a public bond that would fund a new community aquatic center on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

ROCK VALLEY—The multimillion-dollar referendum on Rock Valley’s new city pool will finally take the plunge on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

If the ballot initiative crosses the 60 percent threshold, the city will be authorized to raise property taxes to cover the remainder of the project, up to $3.5 million. That windfall will add to the $1.2 million already raised from Pool Together RV, a nonprofit leading the “yes” campaign.

“It’s time for the community to throw in their vote and decide for us,” said Pool Together volunteer Cara Suter. “We’ve had so much positive for our events, and our fundraising has been overwhelming.”

The community group has been fundraising toward a goal of $1.5 million since 2019. Pool Together sold T-shirts, solicited donations from other civic organizations and hosted fundraisers, including the July 21 block party it organized with Peoples Bank.

Suter said, even if Tuesday does not go its way, Pool Together will keep fundraising and pushing its cause to get another referendum.

“I’m feeling very hopeful, but realistically, we have to plan as if the vote doesn’t go through,” she said. “If the vote doesn’t go through, mentally that’s where we are. We have to keep moving forward out of respect for the donors.”

It’s a “hope for the best, plan for the worst” hedge.

“But probably more on the ‘hope for the best’ part,” Suter said.

Repairing the existing pool, on the east side of City Park, was ruled out in 2019. The old aquatic center is more than four decades old and was deemed not to be salvageable. After more than a year of efforts from Pool Together, the referendum was set up by the Rock Valley City Council on July 7.

The public bond is up to $3.5 million, but the city and its contractor, Water’s Edge Aquatic Design, do not expect the full authorized amount to be used.

Water’s Edge — an engineering firm from the Kansas City suburbs that designed Siouxnami Waterpark in Sioux Center — estimated a new Rock Valley pool would cost about $3.7 million. Wary of coronavirus-spurred inflation, the city raised the official estimate to $4 million. The $1.2 million from Pool Together plus the pending $3.5 million public bond should cover the project even if it goes significantly over budget.

The hike in property taxes will apply to residential and commercial lots, an increase of $56 and $90 per $100,000 of taxable value, respectively.

If passed, construction bids will be the next step. Those are expected to be completed by March 2022 so contractors can dive into the pool project after the snow melts.

Local government officials, although barred from directly campaigning on bond issues, have made the stakes of the special election clear.

“If we want to have a pool completed by July 1, 2023, the vote needs to happen in September,” mayor Kevin Van Otterloo said in a July news release.

Van Otterloo also was a fixture at the Pool Together block party. He was one of several local leaders to spend time in the dunk tank, which raised $4,460 for the cause.

At the time of the block party, Suter characterized the campaign as then making its final push. Just days before the vote, the organizer said there isn’t much left to do besides wait for the morning-after results.

“I feel optimistic that the vote is going to pass. They told us at the beginning that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We just don’t know what part of the race we’re at,” she said. “And on the 15th, we’ll know.”