Golfers and grieving families should pay for city pools, councilman says

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

POOL TIME: A Toledo councilman wants golfers and grieving families — not swimmers — to pay more so the city can open six public pools, all but one of which are in the central city area.

The Toledo City Council is trying to open six city pools and a splash pad this summer, even though it has no money to do so.

To close the shortfall, one council member says golfers and grieving families should foot the bill.

City finances are so bad the council is raiding $14 million from the Capital Improvement Projects fund just to pay annual operating costs. If it transfers the full amount, the council will have taken a total of $90 million out of the fund, which is intended to cover such major purchases as vehicles, computers and — most important, considering this past winter — road repair.

At a council committee hearing on the matter, at-large councilman Larry Sykes said the city should raise the fees it charges at city-owned golf courses and cemeteries and use the additional revenue to fund the pools.

“We must maintain what we offer to our citizens, especially for the summer,” Sykes said. “We are opening golf courses and closing pools.”

Sykes asked the city administration to look into adding $1 to the cost of a round of golf to “see if that would sustain our pools and other recreation for the summer.”

“We’re opening golf courses. Who go (sic) to golf courses and who goes swimming? That’s a problem I’m having here,” he said.

The city has a contract, and the council previously approved an ordinance setting the golf fees through 2015. But Sykes wanted to know if the contract can be renegotiated now, rather than waiting until it expires.

Sykes also suggested grieving families should pay more, as well.

“A lot of people are dying and it’s sad,” he said, adding that he wondered if an additional fee of 50 cents on the cost of each grave might “potentially help our children.”

The most logical and fair solution — raising pool admission fees to cover the costs of their operation — did not appear to be an option.

City administrators told Sykes both his ideas were “viable.”

In fact, the administration was already preparing an ordinance to raise the cemetery fees to keep the cost within 80 percent of the surrounding area, per the Toledo Municipal Code, so tacking on a bit more could easily be done.

But will it be enough?

The administration provided the council with a spreadsheet that showed the cost to open, maintain and close the pools this year would be $512,685. The average cost to the city for just one person to visit the pools ranged from $8 for the free splash pad to $87 for Wilson pool.

Admission to the pools is $1 for children and $2 for anyone older than 13. All but one are in the central city area.

In 2013, the city collected a total of $11,618 from just more than 15,000 pool attendees. The city failed to explain why the collections did not equal at least $1 per attendee.

The pools are open for six weeks in the summer. It seems unlikely that all attendees made only one visit to a pool.

If each attendee made an average of three visits, it means the pools serve 1.7 percent of the population, based on 2012 Census data. If an attendee went once per week to a pool, the pools would be serving less than 1 percent of the population.

Why must the 99 percent of Toledoans pay for a service that benefits less than 1 percent of the population, and where is OccupyToledo when you need it?

If the city decided to buy every child a membership to the local Boys and Girls Club — at the 16- to 18-year-old membership rate of $5 each — instead of opening the pools, it could save about $172,000 annually.

But if the city said it was going to buy memberships for kids to a club, would Toledoans support the expenditure of those dollars while potholes go unfilled?

Probably not.

Toledo politicians want to provide pools for a limited number of people so they can swim (maybe) for six weeks — so they will. It won’t matter how unfeasible the numbers are. It won’t matter that they’re already stealing from the CIP in order to run the daily operations of the government. And it won’t matter what golfers and grieving families say.

It’s an issue of priorities, and Toledo government doesn’t have a track record of setting good ones.

Contact Maggie Thurber at maggie@ohiowatchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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