The closure of the Sportsplex pool has prompted a final exchange between Shari Decter Hirst and Dave Burgess prior to today's municipal election,
The gloves came off on the last day of campaigning by Brandon mayoral candidates Dave Burgess and Shari Decter Hirst.
Reacting to comments made by Decter Hirst in Tuesday's Brandon Sun, Burgess said yesterday it's "unacceptable" for his opponent to say that the financials coming out of city hall regarding the closure of the Canada Games Sportsplex pool are untrustworthy.
"That's insulting towards not only the city manager, but also the city treasurer ... the administration that is professionally trained," he said in response to Decter Hirst's comment that she's not sure the public has been given the accurate numbers relating to how much money the pool is losing each year. "To say that is actually attacking city staff."
But Decter Hirst quickly shot back, claiming the mayor had missed her entire point.
In no way was she attacking city administration with her comments, nor did she mean any disrespect with them, she said. She was simply trying to prove her point that there is public confusion over council's seemingly hasty decision to close the pool.
"I would appreciate if he would stop dragging city employees into the middle of this election," she said. "I'm running against Dave Burgess, and that's who I'm holding accountable. That's what this campaign is all about."
Decter Hirst said the public needs to know exactly what the pool's bottom line is each year and what can be done to help it.
Burgess said he has stated very clearly over the past several weeks of the election that keeping the Sportsplex pool open along with the YMCA's new downtown aquatics will cost taxpayers an additional $750,000 each year -- figures that were capably researched and presented by the city treasurer and city manager.
The Sportsplex pool has an annual deficit of approximately $470,000 and needs at least $2 million in structural upgrades over the next several years, he said. The Sportsplex's reserve fund is currently sitting at approximately $400,000 and is being built up over time, he added.
Even if the upgrades were phased in over a number of years and offset with reserve funds, Burgess said keeping both pools open would mean in the range of $1.5 million in extra expenses each year.
"If you have two massive pools, you are going to have larger deficits each year for each one of them (because of) the revenues, which you would be splitting it up tremendously," he said.
Decter Hirst disagrees, saying she has heard several versions in the community of what the Sportsplex pool is losing each year -- even people familiar with the Sportsplex's operations told her it was as little as $200,000 each year, she said.
"I'm an accountant. I want to see the numbers," she said. "I keep hearing the numbers and the numbers are always different. They're not in the context of anything else. I can't rely on these numbers."
But more important than whether the numbers coming out of city hall are bang on is the fact that the public has never had a chance to openly discuss the issue of keeping the pool open versus closing it, Decter Hirst added.
"($750,000) may be the right number ... but how do we know that?" she asked. "Because the numbers are not transparent, there's no way of knowing. It's not whether the number is right or not, it's we need to have accurate numbers that we're all comfortable with and can agree to."
Candidates Nickolas Avlonitis and Henry Hansen are also on today's mayoral ballot.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 27, 2010 A3