December 17, 2013

Carroll's young professionals were interested in upgrading and expanding the town's recreational trail system when they met with three city leaders last week during a "Beers & Ballots" social.

The event - which was proposed by Mayor Adam Schweers, a member of the Carroll Young Professionals group - drew about 30 residents younger than 45 years on Thursday night to meet and discuss city issues with Schweers and City Council members Carolyn Siemann and Jerry Fleshner at B&S's 529.

The group discussed proposals for the trail system that include: connecting residential areas, such as the homes located behind Fareway, to the trail system so more residents have direct access; connecting the Carroll trails to the Swan Lake area on both the east and west sides of town; and to link the town's schools together.

Siemann, a fiscally conservative member of the council for eight years, said she supported an expansion, adding that the trails were part of a master plan eight years ago, and now is the "time to finally commit some resources."

"I'm old enough to be everyone's mom here," she joked, earning a laugh. But she said she has grandchildren who use the trails and recognizes that the trails are a significant part of daily life for the many Carroll residents who bike, jog and walk dogs.

Schweers suggested that the city or county could be eligible for some grants for a trail project, adding that Carroll will be in an ideal position to match such grants in the next few years.

City leaders discussed three other issues with those who attended the event: a proposed new or expanded library, a "lazy river" addition at the Carroll Aquatic Center and the reduction of train-horn noise.

"It's a good chance for younger people to connect with the seasoned members of the council who no longer have kids in the house," Schweers of the event and discussion.

The first topic was the Carroll Public Library. Schweers said 51 people had attended the six focus groups throughout the week and that 550 of the 2,000 mail surveys had already been returned by residents. As of Saturday, that number had increased to 700, or nearly 35 percent.

"We wanted to get the public involved in as many ways as possible. It's not mine, or Adam's or the council's - it's the public's library," said Siemann. "I don't want another failed bond issue," she added, describing the 78 percent no vote for the last library measure as a "sound defeat."

Siemann said that some residents consider the $26,000 consulting contract too expensive, but said that it is necessary to move forward, voicing displeasure with those who frame the issue as "for or against" the library.

"I have never heard anybody over the years who said they were against the library," she said. "People in Carroll are smart and have competing views and different backgrounds and different needs. We needed to hear the array of ideas."

On the aquatic center's potential lazy river, city leaders said it might cost about $1.25 million, and would be funded through local-option sales tax money, or through general obligation bonds approved via a public vote.

According to Schweers, the city has been using its sales tax funding for road projects. Schweers, Fleshner and Siemann agree that larger projects, such as a lazy river, should be taken to the public for a vote. They also agree that the trick is determining a time line for Carroll's projects rather than trying to push multiple issues through the polls simultaneously.

Fleshner believes a bond issue for a lazy river would pass because the original proposal for the aquatic center passed, but pointed out that there would be ongoing costs in addition to the one-time construction fee, such as the hiring of more lifeguards.

Schweers acknowledged that the addition of a lazy river would probably raise rates at the aquatic center. Though the center is currently running in the black, he said that similar aquatic parks typically start running in the red around their tenth year. The additional costs of a lazy river could affect that estimate, he confirmed.

"People want us to buy into their visions for us, but we need to do our due diligence," Siemann said of the possible cost impacts, adding that the original aquatic center vote "barely passed." She stated her belief that the trails deserve priority over a lazy river.

One young professional in attendance shared that lazy rivers were very popular in the Arizona region she moved from, but added that those water parks often served adult beverages, providing a draw for the adults, as well as their children.

The last item discussed was the train horn noise, on which the city representatives clashed. Fleshner, a former school board member who starts his first term on the City Council in January, said that he was open-minded if constituents had concerns, but he personally doesn't consider the train horns an issue.

"I grew up a block from the tracks. I'm used to it," he said. "I haven't had a lot of people tell me it's an issue."

Schweers disagreed, stating that local businesses in the downtown area are unable to leave their doors open during the summer months because the noise from passing trains horns make it unable for customers and employees inside the businesses to converse.

Siemann said the noise is a small price to pay when considering the possible safety and liability implications for citizens and the city if the train horn noise was removed.

One attendee said that removing the train horns wouldn't eliminate the noise of the trains clanking on the metal tracks as they passed, and suggested that people make a decision to deal with the noise when they decide to purchase a home by the tracks.

A newer resident of Carroll said she respected that view, but that people don't have the opportunity to sleep in a house before they buy it, adding that the first few weeks of nights in her new home was a "shock."