Alex Posada and Ann Batterson: Proposed closure of Paul Nelson Aquatic Center a difficult decision
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Guest Commentary

Alex Posada and Ann Batterson: Proposed closure of Paul Nelson Aquatic Center a difficult decision

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We hear you. We understand the emotions. We don't want to postpone the re-opening of the Paul Nelson Aquatic Center for the rest of this year either, but upon careful analysis it is the best choice among our budget-cutting options. We want to explain the difficulty of this proposal, and how much worse other options are for our entire community.

The proposed delay in re-opening the aquatic center is finite. It would reopen in January/February. To make sure we still have some aquatics programming this summer, the City is working with its community partners, such as the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, with whom we share joint use agreements for swimming pools, and Allan Hancock College, where we have a long relationship of extending mutual aid to benefit the community

The pool closed this year first because of its major renovation, then because of the County Health Order resulting from COVID-19. Now the Recreation and Parks Department must reduce its budget. All City departments are facing significant reductions to help balance the budget.

On Tuesday, the proposed City budget is to be adopted by the City Council. This is a difficult time. Revenues are plunging by $10.8 million over the next two years. The City is about to enter into its twelfth consecutive year of expenses outpacing revenues. The Council understands its options are limited.

It’s just like a home budget. Sometimes there are cuts you don’t like. The budget is not based on which programs/services protest the loudest; it is based on where limited resources are spent to have the most positive impact, to the most members of the community. This cut is temporary.

Recommending postponing the reopening of the pool is a decision we did not take lightly. We looked every which way but up to figure out where else to cut our budget. Our analysis concluded that fewer people are affected by the continued pool closure than by cutting other recreation programs. We could instead end our Safe and Strong children’s program, eliminate teen activities, or brown out the grass in our parks, resulting in tens of thousands of residents being affected.

We are saving money by having the pool closed. We are not heating the water, are running the circulation pumps only intermittently, and using fewer chemicals only to control algae.

We appreciate the swim club’s offer to take over operations, however, that does not factor in expensive operating costs of about $1.2 million a year (about $3,200 per day). About $250,000 goes for personnel; the bulk of expenses are gas to heat the pool water, electricity to run circulation pumps, and pool chemicals to maintain water to public health requirements.

The pool brings in about $100,000 in revenue per year from swimmers (most of whom pay $1.50 per day), about 10 percent of its operating expenses. When the City’s General Fund was in a better financial position over the years, it underwrote pool operating cost to benefit our residents.

What would the pool be like if it reopened under Health Officer guidelines? We would be limited to 17 swimmers at any one time, the City would have to purchase scheduling software, and mandate that swimmers are in and out of the facility within one hour. There would be a 15-minute break between each hour to have a cleaning crew sanitize the deck. We would not be allowed use of locker rooms. We would be required to have a full complement of lifeguards.

We thank our City residents for your understanding, and look forward to seeing you back at our future recreation programs and activities.

Alex Posada is Director of the City of Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department. Ann Batterson is chair of the City’s Recreation and Parks Commission.

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