WATERVILLE — It’s a debate city councilors have every year around this time: Should the city increase municipal pool fees to help balance the pool budget?
Councilors at a budget workshop Tuesday night discussed the pool, which they say is a great asset to the city — so great that people from out of town flock to it every summer.
But while the pool has been doing better financially over the past few years, it still costs about $80,000 in expenses per season and takes in only about $70,000 in revenue.
City Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, thinks something should be done to increase revenue.
“It should pay for itself,” he said. “We’re all paying for maintenance out of tax dollars.”
Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said children and staff members who come into the city from for-profit summer camps pay $4 to use the pool.
“I think that we could raise that, easily, to $10,” she said. “That’s awfully cheap.”
Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, cautioned against increasing pool fees for residents, who are being asked this year to buy trash bags as part of the proposed pay-as-you-throw trash collection system.
“Let’s be honest,” she said. “It’s the best (pool) facility in central Maine that families come to. It’s definitely worth more (money) but I don’t know if it’s the right time.”
Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said he has always thought that people from outside Waterville are getting into the pool for residents’ rates.
Parks & Recreation Director Matt Skehan said officials check identifications at the gate.
“It probably does happen, Fred; I’m not going to say it doesn’t,” he said.
The pool area on North Street has a six-lane, 25-meter pool; a family swim area, including an 18-inch-deep kiddie pool with a frog slide; a 12-inch-deep kiddie pool with a squirt area; a spray pool with 16 water jets; a slide pool featuring a twister and tube slide; and a snack bar. The city contracts with Alfond Youth Center for pool management, but the city pays for the lifeguards.
Children 17 and younger who are Waterville residents pay $2 for open swim per day and nonresidents of that age pay $4.
Adults 18 and older who are residents pay $3 and nonresidents of that age group pay $7. Seniors 65 and older from Waterville swim free of charge; nonresident seniors pay $5. The city’s website, www.waterville-me.gov, lists a full fee schedule.
The proposed $543,000 parks and recreation budget for 2014-15 represents a slight increase from the $542,880 2013-14 budget, with the increase mostly in salaries and benefits.
The parks and recreation budget is just one part of the proposed $38.4 million municipal and school budget for 2014-15. That budget is about $1.1 million more than the $37.2 million budget for 2013-14. City officials have devised a plan to maintain the current $27.40 tax rate by instituting the pay-as-you-throw trash collection program, estimated to save the city $325,000. That program is subject to councilors’ approval before it is instituted. As part of the no-tax-increase plan, the schools are being asked to take another $150,000 out of surplus; and the city has to realize another $60,000 in savings from the city’s human resources budget, state retirement surplus and public works reductions.
In other parks and recreation discussion, Skehan reported that the six-year contract for Pine Ridge, the city-owned golf course, expires in two years. John Curato, the manager, is making improvements at the West River Road golf course, according to Skehan.
“He’s pretty ambitious,” Skehan said. “I like what he’s doing.”
A discussion about dog owners not picking up after their dogs in places such as Head of Falls, the North Street recreation area and the Quarry Road Recreation Area, Skehan said his department spoke with Police Chief Joseph Massey, and the city’s animal control officer, Chris Martinez, is going to monitor those areas for that activity.
“I think the answer is shaming people that you see not being responsible with their animals,” Skehan said.
Mayor Karen Heck agreed.
“It’s totally irresponsible of those people,” she said.
Bushee asked whether the city supplies bags for dog waste in park areas.
“We have them in several places, but we don’t have them everywhere,” Skehan said. “We are putting one at Head of Falls.”
The discussion turned to pay-as-you-throw, as well as a problem with people dumping trash in various places around the city.
“People dump trash now, which is why we need another police officer and a code enforcement person,” Heck said.
In recent budget discussions, Heck and others have recommended the city hire another police officer and possibly return the South End police officer position. She and others also recommend hiring another person for the code enforcement office, as Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins is the only employee in that office, which they say produces more work than one person can handle.