There normally isn’t much you can learn from a swimming pool, except to come up for air when your lungs suggest it’s time.
In the case of how the public can push government toward its own interests, however, there actually are some lessons to be drawn from one particular pool.
A little over a week ago, the Manhattan city commission voted unanimously to adopt a new system of payment for patrons wishing to swim in the City Park pool.
At the suggestion of Parks and Rec chief Eddie Eastes, commissioners agreed to scrap the punch-card system that was both restrictive and expensive, and replace it with season passes.
At the level the passes are priced — $45 for one, $35 for the next — the city stands to lose even more money subsidizing the pool.
The yearly tab now jumps from roughly $175,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter-million dollars.
The commission, with fiscal conservatives Wynn Butler and mayor John Matta on board, accepted without any serious dissent that tossing even more money into the pool (pun intended) is a good idea — because the citizens of their city want the expenditure made.
Voters made that clear in 2009, when they approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay the $14.9 million necessary to upgrade the pool at City Park (and two others within Manhattan).
For the past couple of years, voters who were swimmers — or had kids who wanted to hit the water — complained about the cost of their punch cards, and about the pool closing on Aug. 15 because of staffing issues.
Mr. Eastes is working on a plan to address the lifeguard and staff problem, but setting the price to swim fell squarely on the commission.
The original idea had been that a big chunk of that $175,000 operations expense could be recouped with user fees. But the public basically rose up and said: “Nope. This isn’t what we approved.”
To their credit, the commissioners were listening - to the public, as well as to Mr. Eastes and his department.
So they changed the pricing structure, and in the process wound up eating another $70,000 in operations cost, more or less.
The message was clear, and it was heartening.
However fiscally cautious commissioners feel they should be, they also understood that when the public wants money spent on a quality-of-life item, their job is to agree.
Mr. Butler called the plan to let the pool pay for its own maintenance “a noble idea” (which it was), but conceded it hadn’t worked as planned — in part because the public disagreed.
That extra $70,000 per year will be money well spent. Thousands of swimmers will see to it.