Town pool discussion dominates council meeting

by Geoff Fox

Citizens and public officials dove into a discussion about the funding of a project that has been a hot topic for the last three or four years – the town pool.

A bond bill for the pool failed to get passed by the Maryland Assembly earlier this year.

Councilman Levi Little asked if a bond bill could be re-written for funding during the next legislative session.

Del. Mike McKay (R-1C) said wording about entry fees to the pool wouldn’t be an issue if the bond bill in the future.

“When creating vegetable soup, we can add all kind of little things to make it a little spicier,” McKay said.

During a citizen comment period, two individuals asked what happened to money donated by the late town benefactor Stanley Fulton for the pool. They also questioned spending on other town ventures .

Vivian Graham, a lifelong friend of Fulton, claimed the town approached Fulton for $145,000 to repair the pool and he “graciously” gave $150,000 and was very excited the day he gave the money to the town so the kids would have a pool.

She asked town officials if the money was gotten under “fraud conditions” or false pretenses.

Town Manager David Smith would later tell Graham he never approached Fulton for any specific amount money.

Little showed Graham and those in attendance a binder filled with documents relating to the pool.

“We are still working on getting a pool,” Little said. “The unfortunate thing is, we don’t have more than a half million dollars just laying around. We’re a small community. We need to do what’s best in terms of not bankrupting the town on one shot.”

The repair of the old pool, which was built in the mid 1970s, would have run around $145,000, said town officials. That pool was demolished in 2016.

“It’s kind of like patching an old vehicle, at some point you have to let it go and get new,” Little said.

Bids received in April to construct a new pool came in between $670,00 and just over $950,000. Town officials paused talks on the project after that.

Little said the town has worked around state mandated problems, so they aren’t the issue. The size and scale is going to be part of future discussions.

“The pool idea is not dropped,” Little said. “I’m not going to let it drop, but I also don’t want to bankrupt our town.”

Cheryl Funk brought up a 2016 bid the town received from Pro Pools in Hagerstown for $300,000. She said with Fulton’s $150,000, the town could have found another $150,000 easily.

Funk also mentioned the recent purchase of the Hess building on the east end of town and other properties the town has purchased.

“We seem to have money for everything else but the pool and for our children,” Funk said.

Councilman Tim Boyer said there are properties the town is selling and the monies from those sales would equal out to the cost of the building.

Funk said the town wants people to move to Hancock, but when families ask what’s here for the children, they’re told there’s no pool or anything else.

Funk compared high schools saying Hancock had 31 students graduate this year while Berkeley Springs had 147 graduates. Funk also mentioned the pool in Berkeley Springs

Hancock High School draws from the county line to the Big Pool area as compared to Berkeley Springs, which draws students from Morgan County except the Paw Paw area.

The pool in Berkeley Springs is maintained and operated by the State of West Virginia and is not a municipal pool, Mayor Ralph Salvagno pointed out.

“We don’t have a state park, we don’t have a state park pool,” Salvagno said.

Boyer said the town had to move on from the Pro Pool bid, but didn’t give a reason why.

At the time of the original bid, the town had Fulton’s $150,000 and $100,000 they anticipated getting from the state. However, the state money didn’t come through. The costs have since gone up. Fulton’s money is still in a town account, said officials.

While officials do want the pool, they questioned if they would have to raise town taxes to pay for it.

Salvagno said the town has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers and residents of Hancock to be sure “we’re responsible for the funds that we have. And we will do that and we will try our best to provide what we feel is appropriate for the town.”