By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – The Slidell City Council on Tuesday night faced the first of what will be a series of issues involving public/private projects when they approved leasing the Lakeside Swim Club pool back to the organization after the city purchased the land last year.
The council has recently been dealing with the proposal to purchase Pinewood Country Club and its 96 acre property, considering the prospect of buying the golf course and clubhouse for as much as $1.2 million after the council accepted the $1.5 million appraisal valuation at the Tuesday meeting. Support for the buy came after the parish joined the city in proposing a regional drainage plan using the property.
Three weeks ago the council passed a supplemental budget that funds over $900,000 as a starting point in the negotiations—the first sign the City Council was backing the idea of buying the property.
Then the council will make a final vote at the March 28 meeting to give Mayor Freddy Drennan the approval to negotiate a sale.
On Tuesday night the City Council was faced with approving an ordinance that allowed Drennan to lease the Lakeside Swim Club back to the non-profit organization. The city purchased the property last year for $100,000 that included the longtime Lakeside pool, which has operated as a summer swimming team for over 50 years in Slidell.
The city needed some of the property for drainage improvements and by their own comments at the Tuesday meeting, left the property worth far below its initial value after all the work was finished.
Since the pool was left intact after the drainage work, the city agreed by a 9-0 vote at Tuesday’s meeting to lease it back to the Lakeside Swim Club for $12 a year. Not only will the club be able to continue operating, but part of the lease agreement opens the pool up for the public to lease from Lakeside, essentially providing a public pool facility in Slidell.
The criticism of that plan came from longtime city activist Fred McDonald who said he didn’t like the private/public partnership the city was getting into, claiming it set a “precedent.”
That brought a flood of responses against McDonald for making the remarks.
“Fred, sometimes you say some reasonable things to us, but unfortunately, tonight is not one of them,” south Slidell Councilman Sam Caruso said in the kindest way he could muster.
“Public/private co-ventures by municipalities are not only OK, but frequently very successful, and certainly very common,” Caruso added, citing the train station on Front Street as one example. He went on to mention President Donald Trump and his suggestion to create public/private partnership deals on a national level to improve infrastructure and possibly Mt. Rushmore.
McDonald questioned the wisdom in leasing the property back to Lakeside for only $12 a year when the city paid $100,000 for the land, saying it put the city in a position of accepting liability in the event of an accident. The city bought the property when faced with a dire drainage issue in the area, needing the Lakeside land to improve the region.
City Attorney Bryan Haggerty responded by noting there is language in the lease agreement that puts the burden on the Lakeside organization.
“The leasee must carry insurance on the property and in the event of a lawsuit, Lakeside is responsible to defend the city,” he explained.
McDonald added that he felt the city was assisting Lakeside in their private business, even though they are a non-profit, as they compete in some ways against other local businesses such as Cross Gates and other pools.
“I’m sorry, but I have to say something about this,” McDonald said as he took the podium when the time for public comments was announced.
Councilman Sam Abney, who represents that area, was also in opposition to McDonald and the concern for the public/private lease.
The lease with Lakeside is for 10 years and allows the pool to be leased “at a reasonable fee” by any public organizations such as schools, clubs or individuals. The property, which includes a clubhouse, can be used for community meetings, Night Out Against Crime meetings and more.
“This pool is available for many groups and we are providing a service to the people by making an agreement where Lakeside will take care of keeping it up,” Abney added.
The pool is located in Westchester Estates at 497 Cumberland Drive. Along with the 10-year lease there are two, 5-year lease extension options. The lease agreement noted that maintenance and insurance will cost Lakeside at least $33,250 a year.
The pool must be open to the public for free on Labor Day, Memorial Day and July 4.