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County has a chance to rescue pools

A $1.1 million possible windfall into the county's general fund comes with commissioners clamoring to disperse it among their own pet projects ranging from economic development to parks and recreation. A word of advice: Don't spend it all at once.

The money comes from the Pasco Sheriff's Office, which is returning the unspent dollars to the county, barring some unforeseen circumstance — like a natural disaster requiring heavy overtime expenses — before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

There are plenty of areas worthy of enhanced commission support in light of the Sheriff's Office frugality. Commissioner Ted Schrader wants to boost a multimillion-dollar economic development incentive fund while Commissioner Jack Mariano advocates spending most of the money on parks and recreation to keep facilities open and to allow the county to forgo collecting previously approved park fees.

The user fees should remain in place, but Mariano is correct about making a big splash. Commissioners had planned to close the two remaining county swimming pools, at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex and the Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson, to save $289,000 annually unless private interests stepped forward to help operate the pools. They shouldn't have to.

With this windfall, commissioners can cover pool operating expenses for the coming year and set aside the rest in escrow to pay to keep the pools open until nearly the end of the 2016 budget. That answers Schrader's concern about finding a way to keep the pools open for the long-term.

There are other options as well. Commissioners could earmark a portion of the money for expected maintenance — like resurfacing — to ensure the pools' longevity. Or, they could cover three years of pool operations and bank the rest, roughly $233,000 if expenses remain constant through 2015, for other park needs.

Most notably, it would allow the county to more than match the private sector's $60,000 pledge for operating expenses at a new park scheduled to be developed on 23 acres along Trinity Boulevard.

Commissioners have diminished the county's quality of life by cutting spending on parks and library services the past three years as tax revenue declined. In the 2012 budget, they have an unexpected chance to reverse that trend, stave off additional cuts and keep open swimming pools that are valuable community assets.

Letting the pools sink to the bottom of their collective priority lists would be wrong. Commissioners need to dive right in and grasp this opportunity.

County has a chance to rescue pools 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 6:59pm]
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