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Commission to tackle pool policy in work sessions

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners have decided to hold two work sessions to give the Parks and Recreation Department guidance on how to charge and admit people into the pools.

During a pre-meeting discussion Tuesday night, commissioners told city administrators they wanted to hold a work session June 11 to discuss the admission policies governing parents who are watching their children, and also readmitting pool-goers on the same day. A second work session would be held in the fall, after the pools close, to address pool rates, which most commissioners saw as too high for most of the community.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said day-to-day policies governing the pools are typically under the power of the parks and rec director. But due to the number of complaints received by commissioners about the new policies, commissioners have decided to give more guidance on those rules.

Butler said the problem with charging adults with small children to enter the pool is the mentality of the community. He said parents have always been allowed in for free. He said it would be hard to convince parents the new way is better for the community.

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said most parents don’t want to sit at the pool watching their children. But a city rule requires children 8 and under to be accompanied by someone at least in their mid-teens. McCulloh contended that since the city effectively forces a parent of young children to be there, the pool should discount the rate for them.

“Going to the pool to sit and watch the kids is not fun,” she said.

Commissioner Usha Reddi agreed and said at least one parent should be allowed to enter for free if the city is “imposing a mandate” that young children be accompanied by an adult.

McCulloh also suggested the wristbands used last year to allow kids to return to the pool on the same day be reinstated until they can find a better solution.

Deputy city manager Jason Hilgers said the problem with the wristbands was that kids were passing the bands through the fence and letting others in without paying.

Butler said kids were doing that when he was young, and will always find ways to get in the pools for free.

McCulloh said she was upset by the number of kids at the splash park who were there only because they could not afford to get in the pool. She also said that a large number of those kids were minorities. She said the city needed to look at the rate structure and find a way to give lower-income families’ access to the pools.

“Sales tax is paying for these pools and it is a regressive tax,” she said. “So the poor are paying more.”

Sales taxes are covering the bond payments that allowed the pools to be upgraded last year, although the tax revenues are not a part of the pool’s budget.

Hilgers said the pools were not making a profit because it costs about $600,000 a year to run them and they were only clearing about $400,000 a year, which only covered the cost of employees.

McCulloh said the city was “also putting dollars in other things that aren’t breaking even” and the pools were designed to give people a place to go during the summer that would encourage fitness every day. The “poor” were being excluded by the cost of admission.

Reddi said lowering the rates might actually increase attendance and therefore increase income.

Hilgers said if the family pass was reinstated, Reddi could be right.

Butler said they should wait until the end of the season to address the rate structure and family passes. For this year, he said they should only address accompanying parents with children under 8 and wristbands for re-entering the pool on the same day.

Concealed carry

In addition to the pools, commissioners were briefed on the new regulations allowing concealed carry in public buildings.

City Attorney Bill Raymond said the city had two choices: do nothing and remove the “no guns” signs from city buildings, or apply for a six-month extension in order to research the feasibility and develop a plan to implement by Jan. 1.

Matta said he did not want city commission meetings to be like going to the airport. He said there are no security guards at city hall currently, and they have not had an issue.

Raymond said the new law would not only allow people to carry guns inside city buildings with conceal carry permits, but also government employees coming to work.

Commissioners agreed the only city building that may need security was the municipal court, but they wanted to hear feedback and also wanted to look at how others cities have developed security plans before making any final decisions. Commissioners will hold a work session to address the concealed carry issue June 18.

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