Since when did pouring dirt in a drained swimming pool become a business plan initiative? Sadly, that is the reality of local government budgeting in 2011. Non-essential programs that pay for themselves live another day or even become expansion opportunities. A drain on resources gets flushed, or in one instance, drained and filled.
In a preview of coming budget discussions, Pasco commissioners learned this week that county departments face spending cuts of 5 to 11 percent while, simultaneously, the county is pondering 24 new and continuing initiatives costing nearly $20 million. Almost all of the new spending is paid for through tourism taxes, impact fees, state revenue and sources other than property taxes in the general fund. And the largest, a proposed $12-million sportsplex softball tourism center, likely will be mothballed temporarily since the county's private sector partner is no longer interested in participating.
Some of the new initiatives, such as computer software upgrades, are intended to improve efficiency, but likely never will be visible to the general public. Others could make incremental improvements to Pasco's quality of life. For instance, the county will consider extending summer camp offerings by a week in 2012 to better match the school district's summer vacation schedule, and the county plans to add 15 spots for recreational vehicle camping in Withlacoochee River Park. Both the summer camp fees and the rental charges at Withlacoochee are expected to offset added costs.
Not so with the swimming pool at Grove Park in Holiday. The county drained it nearly two years ago in a cost-savings move. Its fate now looks to be that of a future parking lot. Instead of finding ways to try to reopen the pool, commissioners heard a proposal to fill in the empty pool in anticipation of redevelopment. Taking out the cement pool and adding dirt will cost $33,000, but save the county personnel time used to secure the site.
The pool and an adjoining building are part of a 1-acre park that came under county ownership decades ago after belonging to a defunct civic association. The county wants to rent out the building and use the proceeds to supplement its parks and recreation budget.
"It's a shame it has to go,'' said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, whose district includes the Elfers neighborhood.
It's a shame for more reason than one. While the county said demand for the pool has been limited by the 4-year-old $14 million aquatic center in New Port Richey, the decision to fill in the pool completely strikes us as counterproductive to another county goal. It means abandoning hopes of expanding recreation in a neighborhood the county has targeted for a significant influx of federal dollars to stem high foreclosure and residential vacancy rates.
Imagine how much easier it would be to entice people to live in the aging of homes of Elfers if the neighborhood amenities included a nearby community pool.