06-13-03: A dip into taxpayers pockets
may be in order
|By TIMOTHY COX
The Daily Standard
Unseasonably cool and wet weather has severely limited attendance at
area public swimming pools so far this season.
With the exception of St. Marys where the pool is being replaced, local
swimming pools have been open for three weeks. But most were able to allow swimmers in the
pools less than half of those days. Even when the pools have opened for business,
attendance has been weak.
If the situation doesn't improve soon, taxpayers likely will bear the
burden of helping pools meet budget shortfalls, local municipal officials say.
At Celina's Bryson Pool, for example, average daily attendance has been
only 180 on the six days the pool opened through Wednesday due to the weather. The pool
saw average daily attendance figures of 375 last year and 415 in 2001.
In Rockford, the pool has opened only a few times, sometimes playing
host to only a "handful" of swimmers brave enough to take a dip in 60-degree
New Bremen has opened its pool every day so far, offering prospective
swimmers water heated to a comfortable 80 degrees. But despite the warm water, attendance
has been slim.
"The problem isn't being in the water, it's when you get out of
the water," New Bremen Village Administrator Larry Durkee said, adding that steam can
be seen rising off the pool's surface on recent chilly mornings.
Season ticket sales also have been dismal, Durkee said.
In St. Marys, city officials and would-be swimmers still are waiting
for the replacement of the old swimming pool. Poor weather during the winter and spring
delayed construction, and the new pool is not expected to open now until around July 4.
"It was the harshest winter in 10 years. It got cold two weeks
before Thanksgiving, we had a lot of snow and it hasn't warmed up yet," said St.
Marys Safety-Service Director Mike Weadock.
As a result of the poor weather, city officials and contractors working
on the $1.3 million pool were given until June 27 to finish the job. Officials originally
had wanted the pool to open on Memorial Day. Instead, a July 4 grand opening has been set
and the pool will be opened earlier if it is ready to go, Weadock said.
Getting a handle on just how much the lousy weather might cost pool
operations is not a perfect science, local officials said.
Celina Auditor Pat Smith said the pool's main source of revenue is
through season ticket and daily admission sales. If those numbers aren't there, the city
would have to kick in extra money to balance the pool's books.
But in Rockford, Village Administrator Jeff Long said he believed the
pool's sporadic operations so far this season would actually improve its budget situation.
Pool workers have not had to be paid for the days the pool doesn't open and the town is
saving money by using fewer treatment chemicals through the slow period, Long said.
If the weather remains poor for splashing in the water for much longer
and season ticket sales are affected, it could negatively affect the pool's finances, Long
All area officials who spoke with The Daily Standard agreed that
running a swimming pool generally is a losing proposition financially. Any budget
shortfalls this year will only increase general fund subsidies to support swimming pool
"Pools are a losing proposition for the most part, as are all
recreational activities," Weadock said. "They're not supposed to be
money-makers. They're provided as a service."
St. Marys spends about $10,000 annually in general fund tax revenue to
help the pool balance its approximately $60,000 budget. Rockford typically spends
$10,000-$15,000 to do the same. Celina city officials expect to spend about $26,000 to
support the pool's $110,500 total budget. If season ticket and daily admission revenue
falls short of the projected $63,000, the city of Celina might have to spend even more.
About 10 percent of the New Bremen pool's $192,500 budget comes from
the village general fund, a number that likely will increase if things do not improve,
Durkee said. Because the New Bremen pool is open daily with its heated waters, it
continues to incur personnel, water treatment and higher-than-normal heating costs. Low
attendance throughout the summer would be bad news, Durkee said. The pool staff reduces
the number of lifeguards when attendance is low to save some money, he added.
"Unless the weather improves immensely, it will take a toll,"
Durkee said. "It's going to take a week straight of nice weather in the 70s to get
people thinking about the pool again."
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