In 1968 when Richard Nixon was President, a group of neighbors proposed the idea of a community pool so all of South Miami’s children would have a place to get through the summer heat and learn how to swim safely. Forty three years later, it appeared that this city commission might finally make the approved and funded project a reality but the possible operator was rejected at a recent city commission meeting because their proposal did not come cost-free. Elected officials guided by Vice Mayor Valerie Newman then punted the decision back into the hands of the community as a referendum question this February.
Vice President of Operations for USA Pools Matthew Satterly thought he was going to make a presentation at the November 15 city commission meeting. USA Pools was chosen as potential pool operator. However Mayor Philip Stoddard invoked a Committee of the Whole discussion during the meeting so the commission could speak candidly about the pool prior. It appeared by the response that there would not be a majority in favor of USA Pools as operator so Satterly’s presentation went unheard.
Satterly said: “They asked me the day before to go down there and I spent a whole lot of money to try and present the information. I understand when the commission is moving in a certain direction they go with the flow but it sure would have been nice to be able to provide our information rather than allowing the commission to misquote us on fees.”
According to Satterly operating costs would run approximately $150,000 annually or about $12 per taxpayer per year, not the nearly half a million dollars suggested by the board. The commission has been looking for an operator to sustain the pool without incurring any fees to the city. An unrealistic option according to Satterly and one he claims the commission was well aware of before he left Atlanta and got on the plane to head south.
“We told them what they want to do is not feasible for this area. We did the research. They knew this ahead of time and the city manager still told us they were ready to negotiate. It is a little frustrating because we had told them from the very beginning we could not accomplish the original goal of the letter of interest. Two weeks later we have an agreement in place and then it is a shock that it is going to cost money. They had voted on it already knowing that information.”
But Stoddard says otherwise. “USA Pools does not know the community well but they know pools and how to run them. They did the marketing research and based on their models they were not convinced they could run the pool and make a profit without a city subsidy. They did not come forward and say we need x amount of dollars. They wanted the city to cover all of the operating costs and then pay us back at the end of the year with revenue earned.”
Federal grant money reserved for the Murray Pool has been sitting idle for years awaiting someone to pick up a shovel and start digging a hole in the ground. Several months ago it appeared the city would finally lose that funding set to expire this month. Clarence Brown of the County Community Development Block Grant office sent a letter to the mayor and commissioners stating those dollars were at risk if there was no movement on the project. The city did receive an extension from the county; however Brown said they really needed to see some traction to keep those dollars allocated.
Assistant Director for Housing and Community Development for Miami-Dade County Rowena Crawford said in a recent interview: “We agreed to an extension for another year. But these are federal dollars that come with rules and regulations and you can’t tie up funds forever. They have agreed to work with us on deadlines but if nothing happens we have to recapture those dollars and allocate them to projects that are ready to move. Federal dollars need to be spent on the community. They cannot just sit for years and years.”
As Satterly was leaving city hall that night he said Purchasing Manager Steve Kulik and an associate came out to speak to him. Satterly said: “As I left they came out and spoke to me and said this is not going to move forward and we are not even going to build a pool.” When asked by the South Miami News for clarification, Kulik would not comment.
UPDATE FROM DECEMBER 6 CITY COMMISSION MEETING:
Over 40 residents showed up at the last city commission meeting to denounce a proposed resolution for the Murray pool project to go back into the hands of voters to decide. Opposed by Mayor Stoddard as a “disingenuous” question, the language of the non-binding referendum proposed for the February ballot reads:
The City of South Miami has considered as part of its capital improvements projects to build, maintain and operate a swimming pool. If the question is approved by voters the city may decide to build, maintain and operate a pool at the taxpayer’s expense, would you favor such a project?
“We already have 1.2 million dollars in federal money for the pool so this would not be on the taxpayers back. There are dollars in house ready to be spent, burning a hole in our pocket,” said Stoddard. Commissioners Palmer and Harris agreed with Stoddard’s remarks. Commissioner Beasley suggested a change in the language of the referendum was what was necessary to proceed. Palmer said for the past 25 years that she has lived in South Miami every year it is “pool, pool, pool. The community has been wanting this as long as I can remember and this attempt to put it to the voters is an effort to kill it once and for all.”
By a show of hands it was apparent that 37 people in the auditorium supported the pool happening and rejected presenting it to voters to decide. Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Board Richard Ward said after the board discussion, “it is clear you have four votes up there to reject the resolution. Vote it down now and save us all the time.” The proposed resolution from Vice Mayor Newman (who was not present at the meeting) was rejected. The next meeting on the Murray Pool proposal status will be the December 20 regular city commission meeting when a new potential operator will be considered.