BG park board wades into debate over raising pool fees

City pool "lazy river" feature

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

The Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Board is again being asked to raise fees at the city pool. But as long as the park programs are treading water, some board members are holding steady in their opposition to increasing pool passes and daily fees.

Last September, the board voted to raise rates for several park programs by 3 percent. City Council later approved those changes.

Also on the list in September for proposed fee hikes were daily and season pool passes. But at that time, park board chairman Jeff Crawford asked that the proposed increases at the pool be studied further. He spoke about his wife’s experience teaching at Crim Elementary School, where a portion of the student body is lower income. Crawford said he would like to wait and see the summer statistics at the pool to see if it’s necessary to raise fees for kids using the facility.

On Tuesday evening, updated numbers were presented by Kristin Otley, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. Those rates showed increased use of the pool last summer – but a deficit in the overall parks budget, primarily due to the first payment being made on bonds for the new city park building to be constructed this year.

The good season was viewed from two perspectives. For Otley, the hot summer and high usage meant that season pass owners likely felt they got their money’s worth and would be more willing to pay a little bit more this summer.

But for Crawford, the good season meant that more revenue came in at the pool, so fee increases should be considered only if absolutely necessary to keep the pool afloat. Crawford again voiced his specific concerns about families who might be unable to afford seasonal or daily passes if the fees were increased.

“I don’t want us to raise pool rates,” he said. “It’s a mistake to think that raising the fees will translate into more money.” Rate hikes could result in fewer people being able to afford using the pool. “I hate to see families who can’t show up” because it’s become unreachable.

Otley, however, is looking at the bigger picture of the overall park and recreation expenses. The pool is headed into its seventh season, so replacement costs are hitting about now – like $9,500 for two diving boards, and $5,600 for lounge chairs.

Also minimum wage went up 25 cents an hour, and many of the pool employees get minimum wage, she said.

Plus the park department just made its first annual payment of $237,669 toward the bonds for the new City Park building. That helped create the $420,119 deficit in this year’s budget of $2.33 million in revenue and $2.75 in expenses.

“Our budget is not balanced this year. We’re going into our reserves,” Otley told the board.

The park and rec staff has already gone through the budget with a “machete,” looking for ways to cut costs without cutting into services, she said.

The board discussed other options to increase pool revenue – such as by charging larger increases to non-residents, who already pay more; offering free days early in the season to attract more passholders; raising fees for season passholders but not daily fees; perhaps offering shorter seasonal passes for those interested.

Otley challenged the board to come up with creative solutions to increase pool revenues.

“Maybe there’s another way,” she said.

Crawford said he understands the need to keep up with inflationary costs, but the park board must be mindful of the people who have trouble affording services.

“We fully get that, we see it every day,” Otley said. “It’s never easy to raise fees, but you do it to stay in line with expenses.”

Ivan Kovacevic, the park recreation coordinator, noted that even with the proposed increases, Bowling Green pool fees would be lower than Maumee’s.

“With all due respect, I don’t care about Maumee. I care about Bowling Green,” Crawford said. “We’re not in a crisis here, and as long as we review the fees annually, we won’t be in a crisis.”

Efforts are made to reach out to lower income families, Otley said. Nearly 2,000 free daily passes were handed out at library programs last summer. And families can get discounted passes, she pointed out.

“I get that, but the parents don’t generally reach out for that,” Crawford said.

It was suggested that the park department do more marketing, so families are aware of the waivers available.

Otley said that operating the pool is expensive and revenue can vary greatly with the weather.

“Our expenses go up every year,” she said. The year was a good one for the pool – with attendance up by nearly 7,000 and revenue up by $25,000 from the previous year. But even with that, the $314,841 revenue was about $4,000 shy of covering expenses.

Those good years are needed to cover for bad years, Otley reminded.

“I get what you’re saying,” Crawford said. However, he sees it from a different perspective, he explained.

“Is that a good policy? We had a good year, so we’ll raise the fees,” he said. “If we’ve done well, we don’t need to raise them.”

Board member Karen Rippey pointed out the need to maintain the pool facility and pay for quality employees.

Recommendations call for a 3 percent increase in family pool passes. The rates were last raised in 2017.

The current and proposed pool fees for daily admission are:

  • $6 increased to $6.25 for adult residents; $7 increased to $7.25 for non-residents.
  • $3.75 increased to $4 for child residents; $4.75 increased to $5 for non-residents.
  • $5.50 increased to $5.75 for youth residents; $6.50 increased to $6.75 for non-residents.

The current and proposed annual fees for pool passes are:

  • $150 increased to $155 for resident families; $185 increased to $191 for non-residents.
  • $105 increased to $108 for resident adults; $125 increased to $129 for non-residents.
  • $95 increased to $98 for senior residents; $115 increased to $118 for non-residents.
  • $85 increased to $88 for student residents; $95 increased to $98 for non-residents.

The board is expected to make a decision on the pool fees at its February meeting.

Council member Bill Herald thanked the board for being sensitive to the needs of lower income families.

In another effort to help the park budget, Otley suggested the board consider a “premium” holiday rental fee. Currently, the park system allows building rentals every day of the year except Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving.

Otley would like to keep those off the rental calendar, but to boost up the other holidays that are already being rented out at everyday prices. The city, after all, has higher costs for those rentals since the park employees have to be paid holiday wages.

The board will consider that proposal at its February meeting.

Also at the meeting, Otley reported that plans for the new building in City Park are on track, with bid openings set for next Wednesday. When the building demolition begins, the front entrance to the park will be closed for about three weeks. No vehicular traffic will be allowed, but pedestrian traffic will still be permitted to use the back section of the park.

Otley also reported that the no-smoking ordinance went into effect in city parks on Jan. 1. Signage has been installed in all the parks warning of no smoking or vaping being permitted. There will be some sort of grace period before civil citations are issued, Otley said.

“We anticipate in spring and summer there will be a lot of education going on,” she said.

Kovacevic reported about the new youth policy at the community center, which allows youth ages 9 and older to use sections of the center without an adult. The former policy set the cut off at age 13.

“Obviously, we still encourage families to come out there together,” Kovacevic said. But the new policy allows younger patrons to be dropped off to use the gym and game area.

Natural Resources Coordinator Chris Gajewicz reported that the plantings added to the Simpson Garden Park this year will focus more on perennials – which will cost less in planting and irrigation and won’t require annual replacement.

In other business, the park board:

  • Returned to another term its officers of Chair Jeff Crawford, Vice Chair Karen Rippey and Secretary Cale Hover.
  • Learned a new HVAC system has been installed in the Simpson Garden Building.
  • Heard that asphalt will be added to the trail behind the the community center this spring.
  • Learned the city parks got a grant of about $20,000 from the Wood County Park District to build a new shelter house at Carter Park. The funds generated by the Wine and Cheese benefit this year will also go toward Carter Park.
  • Heard that huge ceiling fans had been installed in the community center to help with climate control.
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