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Wants trump needs with proposed swimming facility

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By BEN CARLSON

Your home needs a new roof, but you want a new fishing boat.
Your car needs new tires, but you want the latest pair of designer shoes.
Your child needs braces to straighten her crooked front teeth, but you want to continue buying that six-pack of Bud every night — the cumulative effect of which would cover monthly payments on the braces.
And so it goes, mankind’s eternal struggle between eating ice cream or broccoli.
The latest incarnation of swimming facility discussions is no different. Anderson County needs many things and a swimming facility, regardless the level of want, is nowhere near the top of that list.
Anderson County’s EMS facility is too small by half, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars of high-end vehicles and equipment outdoors to rust.
The courthouse is an aging, drafty hulk that also is too small by half in providing adequate space to the circuit and county clerks.
The fiscal court chambers has a new roof but is otherwise in need of significant improvements. The building behind it is so bad it should be condemned.
Then there’s economic development, the elephant in the room to which everyone pays lip service but refuses to feed.
That a county with an embarrassment of under-utilized riches — four-lane roads, rail, location and others — has no industrial park is a shame at best, criminal at worst.
Don’t even get us started on roads. While that situation has improved, one needs only to ride the streets of tony Honeysuckle Estates to understand just how bad the county’s labyrinth of poorly designed and half-heartedly paved roads truly are.
Yet on Tuesday, the Anderson County Fiscal Court approved $15,000 to conduct a feasibility study on a swimming facility, the first step in ending a decade of frustration and false starts of actually building one.
The idea of a pool certainly predates his tenure, but there’s no question that this is what John Wayne Conway intended to do when he ran for judge-executive, and it’s no surprise that he’s following through.
In his defense, Conway has spent the first 2 1/2 years of his term in office placing bandages, casts and splints on broken equipment and buildings caused by decades of neglect from previous fiscal courts and judges.
Conway is now tackling something that he — and no small number of the people who elected him — wants, regardless how badly it’s needed.
Conway says the fiscal court can manage the project at its current tax rate, and that’s almost certainly true. Besides, by the time he’s done, what will likely be a $2-plus million project will probably cost less once he picks the right pockets for donations.
Those same people wouldn’t be apt to shell out private funds toward an ambulance building, clerk’s office or industrial park, and you can rest assured they wouldn’t buy a single ton of asphalt, even for their own street or road.
But it’s a safe bet that some will shell out thousands for a swimming facility, particularly if they are recognized in perpetuity.
That’s not a bad thing, nor is the prospect of having, for once, a respectable public facility that gives taxpayers some enjoyment. Besides, were Conway to offer the legion of swimming facility supporters a new ambulance building instead, he’d be about as popular as the mom who serves steamed spinach instead of cake at her daughter’s birthday party.
We certainly don’t stand in opposition to a swimming facility, particularly one that doesn’t require annual infusions of operating cash from taxpayers.
We do have concerns over long-term debt, however, and like a parent telling a child that their teeth aren’t that crooked while twisting open a fresh bottle of Bud, aren’t convinced those monthly payments wouldn’t be better spent on things the county actually needs instead of wants.