TAMPA — A dry pool in east Tampa caused a ruckus Thursday and set up the possibility of a showdown between City Council members and the mayor.
Council members reacted with ire and an ultimatum after a contracts director couldn't give them a clear answer on what it would cost to repair Williams Park Pool.
The east Tampa pool — a symbol of disparity for some — remains closed while a pool in South Tampa opened in June.
"I know the mayor's listening," said council member Frank Reddick, looking into a TV camera. "Somebody needs to put $1.5 or $2 million in that budget if they want me to support that budget."
Council member Mary Mulhern backed Reddick, whose district includes Williams Pool, saying the mayor "might have to worry about more than one vote" over the city budget.
"We want this to be funded," she said.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who presented his budget to the council that morning but wasn't in the chambers for the swimming pool debate, wouldn't be pressured.
"I only need four votes" from the seven-member council to adopt the city budget, he said.
The city closed both pools three years ago when they couldn't meet a federal anti-drowning law requiring drain covers.
But comparing the two pools is not fair, Buckhorn said. The Interbay Pool in South Tampa never had the structural problems that the Williams one does.
The Interbay Pool was an easier fix, and was reopened in winters. Still, it had remained closed during the summers to save money — until this June, when the city opened it in response to community requests. Paying lifeguards to keep it open will cost about $25,000.
The original estimate to bring Williams Park Pool into compliance with federal law was $105,000. But by sitting empty, Williams developed more problems. Water draining from next-door school property, Buckhorn said, undermined the structure and it now sits "sort of cockeyed."
He won't promise to repair or replace the pool, which requires fixing the drainage problem.
Although he trimmed his capital budget of millions because of the tight economic climate, he said he increased funding for neighborhood improvements, such as aquatics, to which he allotted $6.5 million through 2014.
Four pools are vying for the funds: Roy Jenkins, Cuscaden Park, Bobby Hicks and Williams.
Jenkins and Cuscaden are historic pools. And renovation to Jenkins alone may cost as much as $4 million, Buckhorn said.
At a council meeting in June, members had asked Parks and Recreation Department officials to report on costs to repair or replace the Williams Park Pool.
David Vaughn, the city's director of contract administration, said Thursday his estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million was taken from the city's last pool construction. He said costs to repair, instead of replace, would be about the same, without providing specifics.
Council member Mike Suarez asked why — after three years — the staff still had no better estimate.
Vaughn said the staff would know more about the repairs needed by August or September. It still needs to assess the drainage problem and meet with community members to make a master plan for the park. He said the community could choose to replace the pool with splash pads.
Reddick said he didn't want to watch the pool bake in the sun for another year. And several people who live near Williams Park Pool came to the meeting to press for the pool's opening.
"It's a shame in this 21st century we're being confronted with this situation," said Gloria Newton.
Sam Kinsey said he expects the mayor to be as considerate to them as he was to the people who use the Interbay Pool.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.