NEW PORT RICHEY — Mayor Bob Consalvo said budget constraints may force winter pool closures at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center. That idea is not sitting well with local swimmers.
On Tuesday evening, a local youth swim team crowded around the lectern in the City Council chambers to plead for keeping the pools open year-round.
For months the city has been looking at measures to drum up business at the recreation center, which continues to hemorrhage money since it opened in 2007. Last year the city collected $453,000 in revenue but spent more than $1 million to run the facility.
Council members took the first step Tuesday toward generating more revenue by increasing membership fees. The yearly rate for adults increases from $150 to $200 for city residents and $250 for nonresidents. The yearly family rate will go from $300 to $330 for city residents and $378 for nonresidents. The new rates take effect Monday, with existing memberships staying at their current rate until renewal, according to city parks officials.
The larger battle looms ahead, as the council will consider proposals on swim team rentals and possible pool closings.
Teen swimmers for the Tampa Bay Aquatics New Port Richey team told council members about all the good things swimming has done for their lives: better grades, healthier lifestyles, something to occupy their time other than trouble, and in one member's case, a shot at college.
Mazie Siddens, 18, said the work she has put in at the recreation center has contributed to her earning a college swimming scholarship this fall.
"For that, I am blessed. I just want to make sure those behind me have the same opportunity," she said, referring to the younger swimmers on the team.
Recreational swimmer Darrel Goad told the council that swimming at the center has made him healthier and has become a major part of his life. Another swimmer, Alan Witt, told the Times that any pool closures would be a huge blow.
"It would rip my heart out," said Witt, who starts every day swimming at the center at 6 a.m.
The problem for the city, according to Consalvo, is there aren't enough recreational swimmers like Goad and Witt to cover the costs of keeping the pool open during winter months, when costs skyrocket to keep it heated.
"We only have around 10 or 12 recreational swimmers that come every day to exercise. And most of them show up around 6 a.m., so we have to pay for the staff to be there, and during the winter we have to heat the pool," Consalvo said.
Consalvo said he believes the city will likely have no choice but to close pools at the center from December through February, but that will be debated at a future meeting. The mayor also said he would be open to swim teams coming up with plans for winter practice time if they are willing to cover the costs of lifeguards and heating the pool.
Tampa Bay Aquatics parent Hal Blethroad said he wasn't comforted that the city is taking longer to look at pool operations.
"It still leaves us up in the air," Blethroad said.
As for the membership fee increases approved Tuesday, only time will tell if the new rates bring more money or fewer memberships. Last year the city dramatically raised the cost of its summer camp program — from $40 to $80 a week for city residents, and from $50 to $150 a week for non-residents — only to chase everyone away.
On Tuesday, the council backed away from that rate hike because the city had virtually no takers, said Consalvo, who was on the losing end of last year's 3-2 vote to raise the camp fees. Instead, the council changed the rates again, this time to $50 a week for city residents and $60 a week for non-residents.
"It's my understanding no one has paid yet (under the old rates). And because of the higher rates we would not have had a camp," the mayor said Wednesday. "That's why I voted against it. I knew there would be trouble for people in this area meeting those costs."