For 10 years, Pasco taxpayers paid a self-imposed property tax to build libraries, parks, recreation centers and swimming pools. Now, 25 years after voters approved the bond issues to build those quality-of-life amenities, and 15 years after taxpayers retired the debt, county commissioners are considering padlocking the swimming pools to stave off deeper cuts elsewhere to its park system.
Their priorities are misplaced. The proposal to close the county swimming pools in Land O'Lakes and Hudson follows successive years of cutting library and recreation center operating hours, draining the county swimming pools in northern Zephyrhills and New Port Richey and reducing maintenance at the parks while charging for parking and asking families of youth athletes to pay more for using the fields.
Now, the plan is to wipe out the $289,000 the county spends to subsidize the pool operations annually and to forgo anticipated repairs in the near future. Meanwhile, commissioners learned this week, the proposed county budget will double to $4 million the amount of money set aside for economic development incentives.
The county shouldn't penalize kids for the sake of an out-of-town corporation. Certainly, the county needs to hustle to diversify its tax base and attract higher-caliber jobs, but balancing the budget on the backs of children and families using the county pools is ridiculous.
So, too, are the rationalizations offered by commissioners and their staff — that the need for county pools has diminished because more people have swimming pools available to them.
According to the Pasco Property Appraiser's Office, less than a quarter of the 140,000 single-family homes in the county have their own swimming pools. Commissioners are mistaken if they believe civic associations and community development districts can accommodate the remainder.
Just as importantly, the county population stood at less than 282,000 when Pasco opened its pools. How can commissioners justify closing them now that the population is 471,000? Draining the pools in Land O'Lakes and Hudson would leave county residents with only three publicly accessible swimming pools — one in the city of New Port Richey and at YMCA branches in Trinity and Zephyrhills.
It means no county swim lessons for tots and one less place for summer campers to cool off. There will be no pool availability for some high school and club-level swimmers and an end to the popular "swim under the stars'' evenings that turned the pools into youth-oriented community centers with disc jockeys, games and diving contests for the kids and peace of mind for parents that their children were having fun in a safe environment.
A county swimming pool is a community asset and a laudable public service. It is irresponsible to continue to diminish the value of the recreational amenities that the public already paid to build.