Across the country and in metro Atlanta, public swimming pools are being closed or hours reduced to help trim budget as the country tries to recover from recession.
“But as the Great Recession has drained city budgets across the country, it also has drained public pools for good. From New York City to Sacramento, Calif., pools now considered costly extravagances are being shuttered, taking away a rite of summer for millions. It’s especially hard for families that can’t afford a membership to private pool or fitness club and don’t live in a neighborhood where they can befriend with someone with a backyard pool.”
“Hard times haven’t always meant cutbacks. An author who studied the role swimming pools played in 20th century America found more than 1,000 municipal pools were built as public works projects during the Great Depression. But this time, most governments only see decades-old pools burning holes in already tight budgets.”
“… Faced with a $31.5 million budget shortfall, Cobb County commissioners recently approved service cuts and other measures to balance the budget. As a result, county pools will be open an average of 10 hours less each week beginning this month.”
“ ‘It’s all about the economy,’ Cobb aquatics manager Bob McCallister said. “The county just isn’t getting the revenue to support these operations.”
“Cobb isn’t alone. Local governments across the country are reducing hours, raising fees or — in some cases — closing pools as they grapple with the Great Recession’s effect on tax revenue.”
“In metro Atlanta, Clayton, Fulton and Gwinnett counties also have adjusted pool fees or hours. And while some governments like Cherokee County and the city of Cumming continue to build pools, others — such as Roswell — are saying “no thanks” for now, even when offered assistance from the private sector.”
“ ‘Everybody facing budget pressures is looking at the total package of things they offer,’ said Bill Beckner, research manager for the National Recreation and Park Association. ‘Many of them are looking at swimming pools and aquatic programs.’ ”
“Some say that’s what they should be doing. Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb County Taxpayers Association, said the county should focus on providing core services like public safety and leave pools to the private sector.”
“ ‘They’re not essential,’ Lamberton said. ‘Roads are essential. Police protection is essential. Fire and emergency management are essential. Aquatic centers are not essential.’ ”
How much does it cost to run a large public pool?
From the AJC:
“Gwinnett spent about $3.3 million on aquatics programs last year. Cobb spends more than $2 million. Cumming officials recently set aside $1.2 million to operate a new pool this year, though Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt believes it won’t cost that much.”
“Governments offset those costs by charging for admission and classes. Such fees cover about 75 percent of expenses in Gwinnett. They cover half the costs in Cobb, which raised parks and recreation fees 10 percent to 15 percent last fall.”
“McCallister said Cobb officials traditionally believed pool fees should be low to keep services as affordable as possible for residents. “They’ve already paid taxes toward getting them built,” he said.”
“But McCallister said that philosophy is changing in light of the economy.”
“Some who use Cobb pools think it should raise rates. Edward Patterson of Kennesaw attends an aqua aerobics class at Mountain View Aquatic Center in Marietta. It costs him $2 per class.”
“ ‘You’d pay that much for a root beer if you stopped by the side of the road,’ Patterson said. ‘If this thing is not making money, raise the rates until it pays for itself.’ ”
“Last year the Engage Gwinnett panel said the county should close and sell pools or raise fees so they are completely self-supporting.”
So what do you think: Are public pools not essential during a hot Georgia summer? Should rates be raised slightly to help cover the costs and keep the pools open?
Have you seen cutbacks at your local area pool? Does this plan only hurt poor people who don’t have access to private pools or is it truly something non-essential that can be cut?