Business: Pool gets water bill relief | News

Business: Pool gets water bill relief | News

After a difficult year for Eisenschmidt Pool, Pool Manager Anne Sholz has secured some financial relief for the facility.

Pool Finances

The St. Helens City Council has approved a plan to reduce the Eisenschmidt Pool’s water bill.

During the St. Helens City Council work session May 5, Sholz requested that the council grant leniency to the pool for its water bill. After making the request, the council tentatively agreed to reduce the pool’s water bill by 50% and Sholz said that evening, the council confirmed their vote and later notified Sholz of the change to the pool’s bill.

The reduction will stand through June, 2022, when the council will re-evaluate the pool’s financial status.

“[The reduction is] a huge gift,” Sholz said, “I’m very, very pleased.”

During the regular work session, in which the council tentatively granted Sholz’s request, St. Helens Mayor Rick Sholl said, “We do appreciate what you guys do as a special district,” and affirmed the council’s decision to reduce the pool’s water bill.

Eisenschmidt pool, located at 1070 Eisenschmidt Lane in St. Helens turns 82 this year, but its survival has been tenuous in recent years, especially since COVID-19 forced Sholz to close the pool, and lay off 25 employees. The pool was built in 1939 during the Great Depression as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a relief program aimed at getting unemployed people back to work by having them work on a wide variety of projects, and is one of eight functioning WPA pools left in the U.S.

Originally built as a life-saving measure for residents of St. Helens, after three drownings occurred in the Columbia River in the summer of 1936, Sholz said the pool continues its historic legacy today, and she hopes to guide it into the future.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pool attracted an estimated 500 visitors daily during peak seasons, according to Scholtz.

“We are extremely proud to be part of its continuing future,” Sholz said in a previous statement. “We want nothing more than to keep this resource available at an affordable cost to our county residents.”

Sholz sought the water bill reduction because of financial difficulties caused by COVID-19 and necessary repairs to the pool. During the pool’s closure, Sholz said she also had to repair a pipe due to damage from a winter storm, which cost the pool $25,000 and 400,000 gallons of water. A recent bid for re-grouting and re-caulking the pool shell estimated the additional repairs at $78,000.

“We are completely unsure how we can get this project started until the COVID pandemic has come to a complete end,” she said.

Prior to the Wednesday city council meeting, Sholz enumerated these costs to the council in a letter and during the April 21 City Council meeting and asked the council to consider granting the pool leniency.

“With the above expenses, limited operating hours/programs and resources, I would like to ask for your consideration in a temporary reduction in the percentage paid on our water bill or at least place a hold on our current percentage paid,” she said.

According to St. Helens Deputy City Administrator Matt Brown, when the pool was built, the pool board had a “handshake deal” with the mayor at the time, which allowed the pool to operate without paying the water bill.

“Back in those days, it probably was not a huge deal because the city had plenty of industrial and business customers to help supplement residential and smaller business user rates,” Brown said.

When Brown was hired in 2016, the city asked him to review St. Helens’ revenue, expenses, and fees for utilities. He brought in a consultant who recommended that the city “review every account and ensure that every customer is paying their fair share,” he said, which led Brown to recommend that the pool, among other businesses, begin paying facility bills.

Eisenschmidt wasn’t the only business that received a higher bill after Brown’s evaluation, the city also notified the local Walmart that the store would begin paying the store’s full sewer and storm bill, which also had been previously reduced.

Brown said Walmart paid a reduced amount of the store’s fees because when the building was constructed, the city had an option in the municipal code for larger commercial/industrial facilities to build their own treatment facility onsite to assist with storm drainage. Brown said this part of the municipal code is now repealed and now Walmart is paying the same type of rate structure as all other customers.

When the city decided to reintroduce the pool’s water bill into the pool’s fees, the city council agreed to ease the pool into utility paying, said Brown. The first year, water and sewer rates were billed at 25% of what the actual bill should have been and increased during the second year to 50%, then 75%, and then finally 100%.

“This was agreed upon with the Eisenschmidt Pool board along with City Council,” he said.

With the bill reduced through June 2022, Sholz said she believes the pool will be able to remain open, and hopefully expand back to its usual programs and number of staff.

Under the current pandemic health and safety guidelines, the pool operations are limited.

For more information and schedule details,call Eisenschmidt Pool at 503-397-2283.

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