Council rejects price of aquatic center

March 20, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — This city will not move forward with plans to sell $4.7 million of bonds to build a $6 million aquatic center.

If the city builds such a center in the near future, it will cost less and a new council will vote to build it.

The City Council rejected a resolution by a 2-3 vote that would have allowed the city to enter into a $50,000 agreement with Torrance-based financial consultant Robert Swerdling of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray of Minneapolis.


For $50,000 Swerdling said he would have paid consultants and architects to draw up plans for an aquatic center. Swerdling said today he would have worked on a financing mechanism for free, since he gets a commission when the city sells bonds.

Now that the council has rejected that $50,000 agreement, Swerdling said he will continue to work on a financing mechanism but for a scaled-down aquatic center.

He'll bring back plans for the scaled-down center after councilmen-elect David Ouzan and Alex Perrone are sworn in April 16.

That should be fine with the councilmen-elect because they asked the City Council to wait a month and consider it then.

Perrone said, "I'm very excited about the project and I think it brings value to our city. The concern I do have — you guys are moving pretty fast with this. How long have you researched the project?"

He said priorities for the city had to be set before the council should move forward.

Mayor Victor Carrillo said, "We've been looking at this since last August. We've shown prudence."

Mayor Pro Tem John Renison called himself a "champion of this project" and said he would, "see this to my death."

That said, he added, "I don't have a problem waiting a month but I don't want to see this go beyond May or June."

Renison asked City Attorney Michael Rood if the council would be committed to building an aquatic center if it voted to approve the $50,000 resolution.

Rood said a vote for the resolution would "start a process of planning that could be stopped."

City Treasurer Rudolfo Moreno asked some questions about the project. He stressed that he is neither "for or against it right now."

Moreno asked if a "Calexico financing authority" would have to be created to sell bonds. Rood said an authority would be created.

Moreno then asked how the bonds would be paid off. City Manager Richard Inman said the financing plans were "conceptual" at this point and Swerdling would have to identify the sources of funds to pay off the bond.

"Couldn't your staff do that?" Moreno asked.

Inman replied, "No."

Moreno continued, saying he wanted to know if the city's wastewater revenues would be used to pay off the bonds.

He said the people of Calexico wouldn't want to be charged higher wastewater service rates under the pretense of paying for a new wastewater treatment facility, then have the money used to pay for an aquatic center.

"We're going to tell the people, ‘We've been collecting too much, we've been overcharging you to improve the quality of their life,'" Moreno said.

Renison said, "That's totally preposterous. It's not accurate!"

Swerdling said today wastewater revenues had been a small part of the conceptual financing mechanism he has proposed to pay off the bonds. Swerdling said wastewater revenues or any other specific source of funds would not be the collateral for the bond sale.

"The collateral will be a promise by the city to pay the bond," he said.

How the city does that could be decided after a healthy debate.

The plan Swerdling had tentatively drawn up and presented to the council last week had the majority of the funding to pay off the bonds coming from excess city Redevelopment Agency money, general fund money and a small amount of excess wastewater revenues but only if those "excess" funds exist in the future.

Ouzan told the council it "needs to spend the money (from a bond sale) in an appropriate way."

He asked for the council "not to run on this issue."

Councilman Gilbert Grijalva said he had once been in favor of a "water park" design. He "wasn't a champion" of an aquatic center design and felt a huge bond sale could hinder the city's chances of floating a bond to pay for a new hospital.

Councilman Frank Montoya said he had been in favor of providing something extra but was concerned about all of the "confusion" regarding the financing of the bonds.

"I oppose this project," he said.

Councilman Javier Alatorre said the project is a great idea, "however, the cost is a little high."

Carrillo said, "I don't share the same pessimism. The community has asked us to improve the quality of life."

He said the center could be used by "young and old" and the therapeutic pool would allow senior citizens a place to exercise in comfort.

"Secondly, if we want to use the pool (at Calexico High School) we couldn't. The city needs to develop our own recreational activities for the community," he said.

He called for the vote.

Montoya, Alatorre and Grijalva voted against the resolution. Renison and Carrillo voted in favor.

Afterward, Renison said, "Just because it failed here doesn't mean it will fail again in the next month."

Grijalva took exception to Renison's comments and told him so.

Meanwhile, Moreno was telling Rood an agenda item listed for executive session was vague. Rood told Moreno the specific information he wanted to know and the council went into executive session.

In closed session, the council voted to join Imperial County's lawsuit against the State Lands Commission for its Jan. 30 approval of the North Baja Pipeline. The city will not pay more than $10,000 toward the lawsuit.

The other item in executive session will be discussed in public session at a future meeting.

That was the item about which Moreno had been concerned.

On Tuesday's agenda it was listed as "direction to city negotiator concerning sale of city property located at 425 Cesar Chavez Blvd."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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