Pool not considering public hours

By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford paid more than $18,000 from March 2012 through February to support the Seaford Community Swim Center. That included $5,538 for the pool's utility bills, $4,137 for equipment maintenance, $937 for insurance, $817 for pool chemicals and $600 for professional fees.

These amounts were included in a report sent out by Mayor Bill Bennett to Connie Halter, Seaford, who requested the information at the March 26 city council meeting. Halter told council members that if the city is paying most of the bills at the swim center, then the pool should be more accessible to the public. Now, the pool, which is owned by the city and operated by a separate organization with its own board of directors, is open to members only. Memberships are $85 per person, with reduced rates for senior citizens.

"What part of the money spent there is public funding?" Halter asked council members. "Does the city pay for the pool opening? Does it pay the electric bill? Does it pay for insurance? Does it buy the pool chemicals? If the pool is continuing to operate with city funds, then it should be more open to city residents."

After receiving the financial information from Bennett, Halter said last week that she was even more convinced that the pool should be more accessible. "My gut feeling was correct," she said. "The city is providing ongoing financial assistance to the operation of the SCSC."

Halter said that she would like to see the pool open to the public for two hours a day. "This would allow individuals in our community who cannot afford a seasonal membership to use the pool on a hot day if they desire," she said. "Members could plan their time accordingly if they desire not to be at the pool during this time."

Halter added that she doesn't want to see the pool close. "It is my desire that they will work in conjunction with the city of Seaford, who is being more than generous with their financial resources, to open the pool for a small amount of time to all members of our community can have the opportunity for its use if they desire."

At last month's council meeting, Mayor Bennett told Halter that while the city owns the pool, it is not interested in dictating how it is operated.

"We form partnerships with a lot of organizations to make things available to the public," he said. "We don't go in there and tell them how they have to operate. And I don't see us going into this organization and telling them how to operate."

He also cautioned that if the swim center organization chose to disband, that would likely be the end of the pool. "If they got out of the business of operating the pool, the city would not keep it open," he said. "We are not likely to get back into running another pool." The city closed its community pool on Virginia Avenue in 2009, citing increasing costs and declining attendance.

Bennett suggested that Halter continue to press her point with the swim center board. "They seem open to discussion," he said.

City councilman David Genshaw is president of the swim center board. On Monday, he declined to discuss the pool, referring questions to Michele Procino-Wells, who is board treasurer. Procino-Wells said that the board is not considering having public hours.

"Last year we hit capacity multiple times throughout the summer and we don't feel it would be fair to our members for the pool to be overly crowded on a regular basis," she said. The pool can accommodate 80 people.

Last year, the pool had 547 members. More than 1,000 people went there as guests. "We have done everything we can to make our pool friendly and cost effective for every member of our community," she said.

Procino-Wells said that the pool board is working toward financial independence. "Our goal is for the pool to cover 100 percent of its operational expenses" and to be "independent of the city within the next 2 or 3 years," she said.

The city, as owner of the facility, will always be responsible for maintenance and repair costs, she added.

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