October 21, 2010 in City

Spokane Park Board considers higher pool fees

Doubling admission rates could preserve other park programs
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Swim passes

Through the Spokane Parks Foundation’s “Make a Splash” campaign, 35,000 free day passes for children in low-income families were printed. Of the 20,000 day passes distributed, about 8,800 were redeemed.

On the Web: Download the proposed swim fees.

Less than two years after instituting a swimming fee for kids, the Spokane Park Board may double the rate to $2.

Park officials say the fee hike won’t come close to covering the cost of operating the pools, but they could help prevent cuts to other park programs.

“We all are looking at strapped budgets, budget cuts and layoffs,” said Carl Strong, who oversees the city pools.

Under the proposal, youths 4 to 17 would pay $2, and adults would pay $4, up from $2. Entry would remain free for kids 3 and younger. Season passes for youths would double to $60. Adult season passes would double to $120.

Even with the increase, the youth rate still would be below the fee charged at Spokane County pools. The county’s park director recently recommended reducing rates at the Northside and Southside aquatic centers from $6 to $4 for users 6 and older because of the lower fees charged in the city.

The city’s parks department spent $860,000 this year to maintain and operate its six pools, but they only generated $289,000 from fees, swim lessons and pool rentals. That was more than twice as much as 2009 but far less than the $531,000 expected.

Strong said although attendance was up from 2009, it was less than anticipated for the first full season of all six new city pools, which were paid for with a property tax approved by voters in 2007. Strong said the likely reason for the disappointing turnout was the rainy, cool weather that characterized the early summer.

“It’s really giving the community a lot more options,” said Parks Director Leroy Eadie. “What we need to do is market that more.”

Eadie said the parks department’s budget will be 5 percent less than the amount required to sustain current service and employee levels. Numerous seasonal workers – an equivalent of 12 full-time employees – will be cut. But Eadie said staffing won’t be reduced at pools for safety reasons.

The Park Board will make a final decision about the fees on Nov. 11.

Toni Lodge, executive director of the NATIVE Project, said the fee likely kept attendance down at A.M. Cannon Pool, which is located across the street from the nonprofit group that provides health care and drug and alcohol treatment services and youth programs.

The proposed increase “makes me sad, sad, sad,” Lodge said. “Not every kid goes to soccer camp. The pool is their salvation.”

However, Lodge praised efforts by the Spokane Parks Foundation, which raised money to cover the cost of swimming for low-income families. Most children who attend the NATIVE Project’s summer recreation program were able to swim free, she said.

“It’s healthy. It’s fun,” Lodge said. “It keeps kids out of trouble.”

The Spokane Park Board voted in 2009 to start charging kids to swim and set the rate at $1 just before its new pools opened. Until that decision, Spokane had only charged kids to swim during one summer – 1982 – in nearly a century of Spokane running municipal pools.

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