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Parks board approves swim fee hike

Less than two years after the Spokane Park Board started charging a fee to use the city’s swimming pools, the board voted Friday to double the rate.

Youth ages 4 to 17 will now pay $2 and adults will pay $4, up from $1 and $2, to swim at Spokane’s public swimming pools. Entry will be free for children 3 and younger.

Season passes for youth have doubled to $60. Adult season passes doubled to $120. Pre-season discounts are still available.

Park officials say the increase still won’t come close to covering the cost of operating the six new city pools, which were paid for with a property tax approved by voters in 2007, because expenses are increasing at a greater rate than revenue.

“Our aquatic program is one of the most heavily subsidized programs,” said Nancy Goodspeed, spokeswoman for the city parks department. “The fees don’t even cover the actual costs.”

This year, parks and recreation spent $860,000 to operate the pools, but brought in $289,000 from fees, lessons and pool rentals. This is more than double the 2009 revenue, but still far less than the $530,000 projected.

In these tough economic times, the fee hike will allow the pools to stay open without cutting programs they offer, Goodspeed said.

“The whole thing truly comes down to funding,” she said. “Everyone is tightening their belt. If we don’t charge the fees, we don’t open the pools.”

She said the increase should not prevent anyone from enjoying the pools because the Spokane Parks Foundation will continue its “Make a Splash” campaign, which offers sponsorships so low-income families can continue to use the pools.

Last year, the foundation sponsored 20,000 day passes, which were available at the city’s six pools and City Hall. Fewer than half – just 8,800 – were used. The foundation also pays for some swimsuits and lessons for low-income children.

The one board member of nine who voted against the hike, Spokane City Council member Bob Apple, said the revenue increase is not worth the community backlash they will see when the pools reopen next year.

“It’s not going to raise enough money to combat the outrage we’ll see from the public next June,” he said.

Apple said the $2 fee is nothing compared to the $17 the board figured it cost them per person, per visit to operate the pools.

“I think the public, when they passed the bond issue, expected free or near free swimming and that’s what we should provide,” he said. “This is one of the things we subsidize and it should be subsidized.”

The board voted in 2009 to charge a $1 just before the new pools opened – the first time Spokane charged kids a fee to swim except for one summer, in 1982.