By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – In response to resident concerns about a rumored pool closing, Mayor Stacy Bazman said it and the Civic Center might close to balance the city budget and satisfy state officials.
In response to emotional concerned raised at the March 20 city council meeting from one of the volunteers who worked to raise money to reopen the pool, Bazman said the city must find a way to satisfy state financial mandates to fund pensions and benefits for retired city employees.
Resident John Barnett asked why highly qualified Parks and Recreation candidates were interviewed but not hired, and why the pool, which volunteers worked hard to rehabilitate and open through fundraising two years ago, is slated for potential closure this summer.
Bazman said with the city’s financial state and the acceleration of the Municipal Employees Retirement System payments that are approaching, she would hate to hire a new Parks and Recreation Director, and in 2020 have to tell the new hire that the state is mandating the closure of the Civic Center.
Bazman said that while the candidates understood that parks and recreation departments often operate at a deficit, she does not believe that the candidates were aware of the magnitude of Melvindale’s impending deficit to satisfy state mandated MERS payments into a fund.
The payments are the funding that the city is required to contribute to fund its share of the MERS.
City Attorney Lawrence Coogan said the city must contribute $800,000 to the fund in the next budget year per state requirements.
Barnett asked why the pool could be closed after the effort volunteers put into fixing and reopening it.
“We put a lot of time and lot of our own sweat and money – and the city didn’t put a lot of money into it – to get it back opened,” Barnett said. “We raised that money. Plus, we had a lot of people volunteer a lot of time and a lot of effort in getting that pool back open.”
Barnett implied that the city pool has been operating at a deficit because it hasn’t been run in a manner which would enable it to make more money, especially given the pool’s limited hours of operation.
Bazman said she would not tolerate for the voiced concerns to become personal attacks.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)