Council votes against mayor's proposal to close pools

Action Contrary to Mayor's plan

bfortune@herald-leader.comApril 29, 2011 

Contrary to Mayor Jim Gray's proposed budget, the Urban County Council voted Thursday night to keep Berry Hill and Constitution swimming pools open this summer and to keep all city pools open on Mondays.

Both issues will come back for a new council vote as formal resolutions May 12.

This would be the third year in a row that the council has decided to keep Berry Hill and Constitution pools open. Former Mayor Jim Newberry tried twice to close the two pools because of sagging attendance.

Closing swimming pools on Mondays was new in Gray's proposed 2012 budget. Both pool proposals were part of a broader plan to deal with a $27 million budget shortfall.

The motion to keep the pools open was a surprise move by 6th District Councilman Kevin Stinnett that came toward the end of the council meeting. Stinnett said it would cost about $88,000 to keep the two pools open this summer.

"There's approximately $30,000 already budgeted in this fiscal year that ends June 30. And for fiscal year 2012, we would need to put approximately $50,000 in the budget next year for their operation," Stinnett said after the meeting.

Parks officials said the pools generate about $15,000 in revenue. About 4,000 people swim at Berry Hill in the summer and 3,700 at Constitution.

Stinnett said it was urgent to vote Thursday night because the parks staff needs time to clean, paint and fill neighborhood pools, as well as hire staff, before the pools open in early June. Major pools such as Southland and Woodland open on Memorial Day weekend.

Several council members said they were caught unaware and did not feel prepared to vote on the issue. First District Councilman Chris Ford at one point asked that the vote be delayed until the next council meeting so parks officials could provide more financial information.

Tenth District Councilman Doug Martin said neighborhood pools can be the heart and soul of a neighborhood. A closed pool, he said, acts as a drain on the spirit of a neighborhood and creates the notion a neighborhood is failing.

Fourth District Councilman Julian Beard said Berry Hill was "generally an eyesore" and "needs more help than it's getting."

Gray defended his budget proposals. "We have been living beyond our means ...," he said. "The challenge we're all going to have is to recognize we have kicked the can down the road for too long."

Gray said that while keeping the two pools open this summer involves modest amounts of money, the modest amounts from multiple proposals add up.

Earlier this month, Gray outlined his $271 million spending proposal for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1. In addition to the pool measures, he proposed laying off 28 workers, abolishing 25 positions, cutting spending on police and fire services and closing Meadowbrook golf course.

The council has about two months to make changes to the proposed budget. A final document will be approved in June.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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