By TIM KELLY
The “nos” have it.
The question of pool or no pool is one that has been on the minds of many Sea Isle City residents, seasonal property owners and elected officials for more than a year as the city readies its plans to build a new community recreation center to serve the town.
It is a question that may have come a step closer to an answer Tuesday, with the unofficial tally of 489 no votes to 386 yes in a nonbinding referendum on whether the recreation center should include an indoor swimming pool.
Sea Isle Clerk Shannon Romano said the numbers are unofficial because there is still time for additional mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted. She said the mail-ins received thus far figured into those unofficial numbers.
Sea Isle property owners who were not eligible to vote in the election were given an opportunity to voice their preference in a separate online survey about the pool. The results of that vote were not publicly released on Tuesday.
City spokeswoman Katherine Custer said Mayor Leonard Desiderio and members of City Council wished to review the survey results prior to releasing them and they should be available on Wednesday.
The results of the referendum and online survey are not binding on the city or its officials. They could, however, prove to be a barometer of public opinion, which city officials said they would consider strongly.
Calls and text messages to the mayor and Council President J.B. Feeley were not returned in time for this article.
Desiderio and Council hoped to have a clear indication of community sentiment on whether to add a swimming pool to plans for a new recreation center on the site of the former public school at 4501 Park Road.
Desiderio and the Council members have said they have not yet decided on what direction they will pursue regarding the proposed pool. The unofficial margin in the referendum represents approximately 8.5 percent of the total votes cast.
At least one outspoken critic of the proposed pool, Sea Isle resident and businessman Mike Monichetti, proclaimed victory after the vote, calling it “overwhelming.”
“The residents of Sea Isle let their voices be heard at the polls,” said Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant.
Monichetti said the voters “were not in favor of the pool and higher taxes,” and that homeowners who live in Sea Isle seasonally have no interest in a rec center pool.
“I hear people saying, ‘We don’t live here year-round. We come in the summer and we come for the beach and the ocean.’ Sea Isle has way more important issues to deal with,” he said.
Monichetti cited ongoing flooding problems and potential risks to public safety as a much higher priority than the proposed pool.
“Flooding is getting worse by the month and in a few years (if not addressed) you will not be able to drive on any streets going north to south, literally shutting down the town,” he said.
The vote and survey are seen as a way for full-time residents and property owners who live in town seasonally to have a voice on the question and to attempt to gauge public sentiment. The survey, largely conducted online, also included a paper ballot option for property owners who were unable to vote electronically.
The referendum appeared on the regular ballot for Tuesday’s elections. A “yes” vote was in support of the pool. A “no” vote was in favor of building the recreation center without a pool.
“We’re doing our best to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard,” Custer said. “Our city leaders very much want to know the will of the people. It’s that simple. It’s a big issue. It’s a big project.”
Feeley emphasized in a recent interview that neither he nor other members of the governing body had decided yet whether to support or oppose a rec center pool.
“Ultimately, Council will make a decision on what is best for the city,” Feeley said at the time. “No one has jumped up yet and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”
The city estimates a rec center with a pool would cost between $17 million and $20 million, plus an additional $500,000 to $1 million annually to maintain and staff the new facility. A rec center without a pool would come in with a $13 million to $16 million price tag.
City Business Administrator George Savastano said a recreation center with a pool would add between $300 and $400 in local taxes on an annual basis for a home assessed at $700,000. A center with no pool would add $100 to $200 in additional local taxes per year on the same house, he said.
The old school, currently used for office and storage space and community activities, occupies the entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue and 45th and 46th streets.
It currently needs a new heating and air-conditioning system, gymnasium, new windows and doors and bathrooms that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also does not meet current standards for flood protection.
Such an extensive rehab of the building may have been the main reason why the city stepped away from what was formerly considered to be an additional option: to convert the existing structure to a more modest rec center with a $2 million cost.
Officials now say they prefer to demolish the old school and build a new rec center with more features, with or without a pool.