ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster came to Jennie Hall Pool on Thursday morning, kicked off his flip-flops and took a dip.
He was there to promote the city's "Make a Splash" campaign, reminding residents that it's summer and July is parks and recreation month.
Foster confirmed that the water was cool and fit to swim in and, after playing with a dozen children at the pool, festooned a bright blue banner on the pool's slide announcing the annual campaign.
His visit came several weeks after he and the city backed away from his proposal to close the Jennie Hall and Shore Acres pools to help close the growing budget gap.
His dip also underscored the city's attempt to increase use of the city's nine pools.
"We are just trying to get the word out the pools are available and are open," said Anita Westmoreland, the recreation supervisor for eight city pools.
As part of the Make a Splash campaign, pool visitors can enter a drawing to win a pass to swim free in August. The drawing is July 31.
Several pools are offering additional programs this summer, Westmoreland added, from junior lifeguard courses sponsored by the American Red Cross to diving lessons.
At the Northwest Pool, there are also free movie nights.
Still on the table is a proposal to increase admission fees by $1 at eight of the nine pools. The cost would go from $2.50 to $3.50 for children ages 3 to 12, and from $3 to $4 for ages 13 and older. Entrance to the North Shore Aquatic Center would climb by $2. The price of swimming lessons also would go up, from $30 to $39. In all, the increases would net the city about $181,000.
Supported by tax dollars, the nine city's pools operated at a cost of about $2.2 million last year. They generated $646,000 in fees and had a collective deficit of $1,589,000.
"I don't think anybody expects us to get these pools to break even, but if we can get them to perform better … then I think we declare victory and move on to something else," City Council member Karl Nurse said.
The Wildwood Neighborhood Association recently held a party that raised $3,700 to pay for scholarships for children who otherwise would not be able to visit the pool, said association president Lillian Baker.
"People cannot afford $2.50 to come into this pool," said Baker, who came to Jennie Hall on Thursday with her son, Kenli Bryant, 4.
The Wildwood association is also involved in an effort to obtain historic designation for Jennie Hall Pool to help make sure it stays open.
Council member Wengay Newton, who joined Foster to splash around at Jennie Hall Pool, opposes closing any pool. He said $3 was already steep enough for low-income households, especially those with more than one child.
"Our city is not economically equal," he said.
Ruby Turner figures $30 is a fair amount to pay to give her 6-year-old grandson, Maurice Hemingway, swimming lessons this summer.
Still, it's a challenge. She's on a fixed income, she said from a shaded lounge chair as Maurice splashed in the cool water at the pool.
"I really can't afford it," Turner, 75, said of the $30 fee. "But I feel like I should. We are surrounded by water."
At the Shore Acres pool, Marcie Taylor said bringing her 3-year-old twin boys and 9-year-old daughter for swim lessons was a big part of her summer.
"It's just a wonderful service," said Taylor. She said she could manage a $1 increase, but not much more.
"If (the price) gets much higher," she said, "it would be hard to bring three children here."
Reach Luis Perez at (727)892-2271 or [email protected]