New Carlisle pool to open, despite warning it can’t afford it

Other cities, including Springfield, have seen pools lose money, but say they are a needed community service.

The New Carlisle Pool will open this summer after improvements dropped revenue losses from $40,000 annually to about $5,000 last year.

Despite the financial and operational improvements, New Carlisle City Manager Randy Bridge warned city council members that the general fund isn’t healthy enough to support the pool this year.

Losing money on pools is a struggle many communities have faced. Splash Moraine closed in 2009 due to city budget cuts. National Trail Parks and Recreation District’s Splash Zone Family Aquatics Center has never made a profit or broken even, but district leaders say it’s a needed community service.

Bridge said he understand the need for community service.

“You want people to be able to enjoy it and I’m all for that. But the budget is not financially healthy enough to fund that pool given all the unknowns,” Bridge said.

New Carlisle leaders have suggested multiple funding options, including a tax levy, establishing a swim club, allowing advertising space around the pool and most recently, Mayor Mike Lowrey launched a GoFundMe page for the pool.

Lowrey wrote on the page that the money would be used for upgrades such as painting the main building to attract more people to the pool. In addition, officials want to paint the bathrooms and add new lighting and mirrors to the changing rooms.

In the first 22 hours, $250 had been donated toward the pool. Lowrey and his wife started the donations with $100. As of Monday afternoon it was up to nearly $1,200.

“We had so many people with positive comments, saying they would like to donate some time and donate some money. I was just thinking that this would make a real simple, central place for people who did want to do that a chance to go ahead and do so,” Lowrey said.

The pool has never in its history made a profit, according to Finance Director Colleen Harris, who recently told council members that the pool has lost about $76,000 since 2012. The city’s allocation for the pool for the proposed 2016 budget is more than $93,600, with a plan to transfer about $50,000 to offset losses. City council is expected to vote on the budget this month.

Still, city council voted 5-2 last month to keep the pool open, a year after some vowed to close it if it continued to lose money.

Prior to the vote, city staff and council members met with the Dayton Pool Management Co. to get information about the condition of the pool, tips for better managing a public aquatics facility and inquired about the cost of the company managing the pool.

But council members unanimously voted to reject a contract from the company to manage the pool, which would have cost either more than $69,000 or more than $75,000 based on whether the city had a manager in or out of rotation.

Bridge recommended they reject the offer due to the expense and the loss of control of the city pool.

Councilmen John Krabacher said he contacted the management company in part to learn how to better run the facility and see if a contract with the company would help the city save money.

“These guys are the experts. We don’t know a whole lot about running swimming pools,” Krabacher said. “We learned a lot. But I didn’t know it was that expensive … They wanted $68,000 to $69,000. But that’s more than we’re budgeting for the pool.”

However, Krabacher said officials learned that the pool is in better condition than officials previously thought.

Splash Zone Family Aquatics Center in Springfield has never made a profit or broken even, National Trail Parks and Recreation Director Leann Castillo said. The district covers the losses from its general fund.

The district keeps the water park open because it’s a service to the community, Castillo said.

“We see that as a service we need to provide as parks and recreation and we feel it’s important to the community,” she said. “… If we didn’t exist, the people would have to pay a membership to belong somewhere to go swimming.”

Splash Zone includes newer and more amenities than New Carlisle, such as multiple slides and a splash pad.

National Trail Parks and Recreation District spent about $282,000 to run that water park in 2014, and it brought in about $184,000. It operated with an approximate $98,000 loss in 2014, Castillo said, adding that the district moved money from its general fund to cover the losses.

Last year, revenues improved by $23,000 just in pool fees, Castillo said. The water park contracted out its concessions, offering iced cappuccinos for the first time. Splash Zone also had 5,000 more visits and more pool rentals after hours.

Still, NTPRD used about $55,000 to cover losses, Castillo said.

National Trail looked into using a pool management company to take over Splash Zone, Castillo said, but that proved to be too expensive.

New Carlisle City Councilman Ethan Reynolds was one of two council members who voted against opening the pool this year because of budget concerns.

“The budget can’t afford it. Even the city manager said we can’t afford it. We keep talking about this financial crisis we’re having continuously. It seems like we can’t get out of it even when we pass a levy,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he and the majority of council members vowed to close the pool if it continued to lose money.

He has suggested the city put a levy on the ballot and let the citizens decide if they want to pay for the pool.

New Carlisle City Councilman Lowell McGlothin said he had hoped the management company would run the city’s pool and take the profits.

But Lowrey said the city quickly discounted contracting with the company after it requested a fee to run the pool.

McGlothin said all pools, including those in Springfield, have been losing money. But he said it’s important to provide activities for youth and their families.

“If we can keep it where it is right now, loss wise and run it like they did last year, it’s a doable situation for us,” McGlothin said. “There’s so many things that we do that we don’t make money on because it’s just things that we do for the citizens of New Carlisle, like mowing the parks and taking care of the parks. I’m sure it costs a lot more to mow all of our parks than it does to run that pool at $5,000.”