Manatee County’s proposal for a swimming pool and aquatic center north of the Manatee River did not sit well with several high-ranking elected officials — and deservedly so. The site way out in Parrish is ill-matched with the demand and needs of Palmetto residents, many of whom have been clamoring for a public pool for years. Before the Great Recession busted government budgets, the county laid out plans for a pool in the Palmetto area, but when revenues sank, so did the pool idea.
In reviving the objective, the county Parks and Natural Resources Department selected a location at the county-owned Buffalo Creek Park, east of Interstate 75 and a 12-minute drive from Palmetto. Newer neighborhoods are spread throughout that portion of North County and more are in the works. Some neighborhoods sport community pools, and many homes enjoy private pools. The key question here is this: Do those residents genuinely need an aquatic complex?
Or does Palmetto? Residents of poor neighborhoods are unlikely to travel mile upon mile for swimming lessons, competitive events, team training and drowning prevention classes, among other programs. The county’s other three pools are also not easily accessible to this underserved population, especially for families lacking transportation.
With stiff opposition to the site at the unveiling of the plan during last week’s commission meeting, commissioners wisely tabled the proposal and decided to hold a work session.
Administrator Ed Hunzeker cites a key factor in favor of Buffalo Creek: impact fees. State law requires those fees be spent on infrastructure projects in the area where they were collected. Impact fees would cover the entire cost of the $4.3 undertaking.
But at the commission meeting, the county attorney’s office disputed one of Hunzeker’s statements to the Herald earlier this month — the administrator saying that impact fees are not available for Palmetto projects. County Attorney Mickey Palmer told commissioners that impact fees could fund portions of a project if the pool is placed inside Palmetto’s city limits.
Since the popular Buffalo Creek Park is county property, costly land acquisition would not be necessary — another factor in the site selection. But the county also owns Blackstone Park in Palmetto. Whether that is a viable option should be a discussion topic at the upcoming work session.
First and foremost, commissioners should give high priority to the deserving children of Palmetto. Commissioners should also consider the benefits of a public aquatic center in a city bereft of county assets — and the economic development and community revitalization ramifications that come with such an investment.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant urged commissioners to take a hard look at the location since “these are underserved citizens.”
Commissioner Charles Smith, whose district includes Palmetto, wrapped up the entire matter in piercing terms last week: “The bottom line is Palmetto will not be getting a swimming pool if this recommendation is approved. They have been promised a pool forever. They will not get a pool. This is not close by. It is very disturbing. Children can’t even get there to Buffalo Creek. It makes no logical sense to me.”
Illogical indeed. And shattered hopes once again. New developments out east where residents commute hither and yon will not suffer without a public pool. Palmetto’s children residing in older neighborhoods will.
More information should be forthcoming at the work session, one Palmetto’s stakeholders should be well represented.