Everyone wants a pool in Lincoln Park. How to pay for it isn’t coming easily.

Local officials agree they want to build a new swimming pool at Lincoln Park in Palmetto. But they are struggling with how to pay for the $4 million project.
Local officials agree they want to build a new swimming pool at Lincoln Park in Palmetto. But they are struggling with how to pay for the $4 million project. Bradenton Herald file photo

There is no question that local officials want to see a pool at Lincoln Park in Palmetto, but how to pay for it has become a point of contention.

Under the proposal for a pool at the park, 501 17th St. E., Palmetto, the cost would be shared between Manatee County and the city of Palmetto. The county’s share had been proposed to come from park impact fees, but that would require a change to the county’s Land Development Code to allow spending the fees within an incorporated city.

Since impact fees are paid by new construction, most of the fees are collected in unincorporated Manatee County, which gave commissioners pause Tuesday. The commission requested a work session to discuss the topic further within 30 days.

During the work session, commissioners also will discuss keeping the county impact fees at 90 percent of the fees recommended in an earlier consultant’s study rather than increasing them to 100 percent in 2018.

“It gets a little bit more difficult when you talk about the pool in Palmetto,” Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of new homes that are causing a need for a pool, especially since we aren’t talking about a G.T. Bray competitive type of facility. ... I think we are kind of in a jam here and we have to figure out how to fund a pool. It is a dilemma that we are dealing with.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, county staff brought forward a recommendation to the commission to allow the impact fees collected before April 18, 2016, to be used within incorporated areas.

“We are trying to correct something,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “I don’t think that’s right. We are trying to change the rules here. ... I think those impact fees should be spent where they are generated. I think we need to find another way.”

If the county is going to be building an Olympic-size pool used by students for competition, then everybody “has to have some skin in the game,” Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said.

“This pool has long been promised to Palmetto,” she said. “One way or another, we need to fund it.”

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the developer of Lakewood Ranch, sent an email to commissioners in opposition to allowing impact fees collected in areas east of Interstate 75 to be spent in places such as Palmetto.

“This is patently wrong,” he said in the email. “The County collects an IMPACT FEE where the IMPACT occurs. That fee should be spent in the area in which the impact occurred, not in an area that the impact did not occur in. ... The county has plenty of resources to deal with facility backlogs and facility replacements. These are not appropriate places to spend impact fees.”

As Manatee County officials figure out how to fund their share of the pool, they’ve asked Palmetto to pay $1 million toward a new pool at Lincoln Park, which has created frustration among Palmetto officials.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the commission needs to come to a consensus by a self-imposed April 24 deadline. Based on the Palmetto commission’s meeting Monday, she will communicate to the county that the city would instead rather donate the land at Lincoln Park and “come up with a financial balance if needed.”

Bryant said a 15-year financial deal would cost the city about $89,000 a year. Palmetto has already committed $8.5 million toward a new hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center at the county’s request. That has not only raised financial concerns for the city but some anger at the county for bringing up the pool idea after the city agreed to the hotel.

“Had I known about this before the $8.5 million for the hotel, this would be different,” said Palmetto City Commissioner Tambra Varnadore. “The fact that the county didn’t mention this pool agreement until after they had our approval for the hotel is a concern of mine. We are taking on a lot of debt.”

Varnadore and Vice Mayor Brian Williams are arguing for further negotiations with the county to either donate the 4 acres slated for the pool or potentially donate the entire park, which is worth approximately $2 million, according to Williams. The county maintains the park, and Varnadore said if the county hit hard times, it could easily pass the responsibility of maintaining the pool onto the city. Varnadore said the city could never afford it.

“I would rather not own the land,” she said. “It’s a liability.”

Bryant said she would take the commission’s suggestions to the county and if necessary, call a special meeting to get the situation resolved before the county commission’s April 25 meeting.

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