Bainbridge City Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer wants city government officials to find money to keep at least part of the Bainbridge Aquatic Center open, after plans were announced to close the city pools altogether.
The Bainbridge City Council approved its 2015-2016 annual budget on Tuesday night, and thanks to a suggestion by Councilwoman Palmer, at least part of the budget money may be shifted to cover the costs of keeping a pool for younger children open.
There’s several pools at the Bainbridge Aquatic Center on Potter Street, including a full-size all-ages pool, a “kiddie” pool, a small pool with a water slide, and a waterfall play area. The 2015-2016 budget cut funding for the Aquatic Center, in part because it was estimated by city staff that it would cost $100,000 to make necessary repairs to keep the pools open for next summer; some city officials argued whether the pool’s maintenance cost was justified by declining attendance at the aquatic center.
Councilwoman Palmer, who was in favor of keeping the entire aquatic center open, said Tuesday night that while she had come to accept that the pools may shut down, she wanted to at least make an effort to keep the pool for younger kids operating. According to Palmer, city officials told her it would cost an estimated $48,600 to keep the kiddie pool open (this includes the cost of partial repairs, plus supplies and staffing.)
Palmer’s plan is to keep the kiddie pool open until a proposed splash pad–think water fixture on a concrete pad–can be completed.
“I don’t think it’s right to just shut down the Aquatic Center and just send families down to the Boat Basin [swim area],” Palmer said. “The older kids will find alternative recreation, but the younger kids won’t have anywhere to go.”
Palmer listed several budget line items on which the city possibly allocated a greater planned expense than it would need, based on her research. For example, the budget puts aside about $15,000 for the cost of holding a health fair for city employees. According to Palmer, the city didn’t incur a significant cost last year for holding the health fair because Memorial Hospital donated its staff time and resources to the fair. Councilwoman Bench said the Hospital Authority had recently agreed to do the same thing again this year. Palmer said that could shift $10,000 towards the cost of the kiddie pool, and said there were several other line items that could be looked at.
Other members of the City Council pointed out potential caveats with keeping the kiddie pool open. Mayor Reynolds, alluding to the fact that the kiddie pool is only intended for children under the age of 5, wondered whether it would be an issue to keep older kids out.
“I think it would be acceptable to allow young kids to be accompanied by an older sibling or an adult to supervise them,” Palmer said.
Councilwoman Glennie Bench also pointed out that Bainbridge Leisure Services still won’t be able to offer swimming lessons, because the larger pool wouldn’t be operating. City Manager Chris Hobby said he has made initial contacts with the Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA about a possible partnership to offer discounted swimming lessons at the YMCA pool on Shotwell Street.
Councilman Joe Sweet said he had received “a great deal” of feedback from citizens on the news the city pool was closing, but didn’t elaborate. City Councilman Don Whaley said he heard from several citizens, who were split about 50/50 on whether the pool should be kept open or closed.
Councilwoman Bench characterized the opinions of some citizens who were OK with letting the pools closed–given the average 35 visitors per day at the city pool, and weighing that against the six-figure annual cost of running the pool and staffing it with lifeguards, some feel the pool was taking money from other Leisure Services programs.
Citizens Paul Fryer and Ted Snell both spoke in favor of keeping the pool open. Fryer suggested the City of Bainbridge could promote usage of the city pools more and offer incentives for parents to sign their kids up for swimming lessons.
Fryer stated he felt that the budget for the city pools was being cut to make room for the $80,000 salary the City of Bainbridge will spend on a newly created position of HR director. Fryer said he had worked with the city’s HR manager (who handles payroll and other clerical-oriented tasks) on workers’ compensation claims and felt an additional HR employee wasn’t necessary.
Councilwoman Bench said her private business had recently hired an HR director and found that the position paid for itself through the savings in worker’s compensation claims that were not filed because of better training and workforce advocacy provided by the HR director.
Mayor Reynolds also denied that the issue of closing the city pools was in any way connected to creation of the new HR director position.
“We’ve been discussing the cost of maintaining the city pools for the last three years at the City Council’s annual planning retreat,” the mayor said. “We only began discussing the need for an HR director at our retreat this past spring and all of the council members agreed the position was needed.”