Kudos to three Pasco commissioners — Ann Hildebrand, Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano — for recognizing the value of maintaining a county swimming pool in Pasco's urbanized west side. Tuesday, the trio agreed to add $118,000 to the proposed parks and recreation budget, ensuring the pool at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson opens for the summer 2012 season.
Sadly, Commissioners Pat Mulieri and Ted Schrader did not share the majority's wisdom. Their "no'' votes followed a unanimous decision to partner with a private swim club to keep the county pool at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex open. The pools in Hudson and central Pasco had been slated to close Oct. 1 to save $328,000 in operating costs (offset by $39,000 in admission fees) under a draft budget revealed in July.
Without a private partner — which cut the county's share of the Land O'Lakes pool costs to about $49,000 — Mulieri and Schrader were unwilling to keep the Hudson pool open. Their penny-pinching short-sightedness is hard to figure, particularly with nearly $1.1 million — unspent money returned by the Sheriff's Office — being pushed into an unencumbered reserve account. At a previous workshop, Mulieri wrongly characterized that pot of money as "not a windfall.'' Of course it's a windfall. It is money that was not included in the draft budget presented to commissioners in July, and to suggest the money must be automatically rolled into a reserve account, known as a fund balance, while closing public swimming pools is absurd.
Mulieri, however, was drowning in gaffes. She suggested the Hudson pool is under utilized because the parking lot is empty when she drives by. County statistics show public use mirrors the pool in Land O'Lakes. She also insulted the people of Hudson when she suggested they should assemble their own fundraising effort and not "come here crying and getting us to raise taxes.'' Nobody asked for a tax increase, and the commission already set a status quo property tax rate for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
Schrader wanted to bank the windfall as a hedge against the potential for a tight budget year in 2013. That strategy, however, fails to recognize the expectations from the property appraiser that four years of tax roll declines could be ending. Leaving west Pasco residents high and dry with no county swimming pool — while plugging additional money into business incentives and reserve accounts — is not leadership.
That came from the three west side commissioners. Wilson correctly identified the county's needs and said tapping reserves was appropriate. Mariano, after unsuccessfully pushing for a larger dip into reserves to offset park fees adopted a year ago, agreed. Hildebrand, who, as a first-term commissioner in 1986, championed construction of the pools, parks and libraries through a voter-approved bond referendum, did likewise.
But two decades after the parks and library systems expanded, their budgets remain an easy target to offset four consecutive years of declining tax revenue. By keeping the Veterans Memorial Park pool open, Wilson, Mariano and Hildebrand, at least in this instance, stemmed the decline in the county's quality of life services.