The economic effects of the pool bond vote may reach further than the Hebron City Council anticipated, but remains unknown for now because the city is currently applying for grants and soliciting private donations, and therefore, has not set the bond amount.
“We are still trying to raise funds. There is no set design for the pool or price tag,” council member Rita Luongo said at the council’s regular meeting Monday evening.
On Dec. 10, 360 voters approved up to a $3.5 million bond with a half-cent raise in the city sales tax to offset the cost. In order to apply for grants, the city needed the bond in place as the major piece of funding.
The city is applying for a $562,000 federal grant and plans to issue its letter of intent to apply by Jan. 15, and in early February, the city will find out if it can proceed with the full application. The amount the city could receive from the grant is unknown.
Hebron’s swimming pool was built in the 1930’s and the infrastructure is in disrepair. It also continuously leaks.
The council told those in attendance at the meeting council members are hoping the property tax increase will be minimal.
They are also looking forward to another grant application in the fall in which the city must show it has retained the support of as many residents as possible.
In order to do that, the council approved a Voluntary Pool Round-Up Monday that will allow residents to “round-up” their utility bills, no matter the amount.
For example, a resident could round-up to the nearest dollar or five dollars to show support for the new pool complex.
Following a survey earlier in the year that indicated residents were in favor of a new pool, the city held a well-advertised open house in November. The ballot was mailed to residents less than two weeks later.
On the agenda for the council’s meeting was Scott Harms, president and founder of one of Hebron’s major companies, MetalQuest Unlimited, Inc. The local company is a global operation on Highway 81 that has expanded twice since beginning operations on the highway in 1999.
MetalQuest was planning for a third expansion this year and had secured a $175,000 economic development grant for the $2.5 million future site plan that would bring five to 10 new employees to the company.
Harms told the council MetalQuest had finished and uploaded its promotional video of Hebron Dec. 9.
“We were really proud of the way it turned out, and hoped it would be a great way for anyone to promote Hebron,” Harms said as he read from a letter addressed to the council. “Sadly, the very next day, the town gave the OK, for you, to literally take hundreds of thousands of dollars from our company to build something that is used three months per year in a manner that completely eliminates the expansion plan we had started.”
Harms was at the council meeting with MetalQuest Vice President and Chief of Operations, Scott Volk, and spoke on behalf of MetalQuest’s management team.
“It’s been really hard to see an upside to this, but we are so thankful this happened before our expansion was complete. We’re forfeiting the grant we received, and you don’t need to worry about the power line addition because we don’t need it anymore,” Harms said.
“Knowing we can’t expand here, we created a path forward. We do not know the future of our Hebron location, but we truly value our people and will do what we can to secure their future,” he continued.
Harms’ statement to the council was brief, and he and Volk left the meeting.
Tim Tietjen also addressed the council to say he questions why he should build a home in Hebron because of the upcoming possible property tax burden.
Tietjen said he was offered an incentive to build in Geneva.
Before he left the meeting, Harms said other locations offer incentives for a company like MetalQuest.
“We’ve already found potential communities with great incentive programs, and even have Kansas State University helping us, which I’m very optimistic about,” Harms said.
He said he would inform the Thayer County Commissioners at their Jan. 8 meeting about the cancelled expansion.
MetalQuest worked with the commissioners and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to secure the grant and future site plan.
Asked if the council had talked with businesses about the pool prior to the vote, Luongo said she thought Mayor Doug Huber had, but wasn’t sure.
Steve Anderson, owner of Central Market and in attendance at the meeting, volunteered to speak with Harms.
The amount of the bond and design may remain unknown until 2021, but the half-cent city sales tax raise will go into effect this year. The soonest would be July 21.
Currently, the plan is to keep the swimming pool open for two more seasons until construction is ready to begin, provided nothing breaks down to prevent it from operating.