May 10 2011

The Council Needs to Look Before It Leaps!

A PCA Editorial: The City has taken over operation of the Piedmont Pool at taxpayer expense.

A Piedmont asset that was built and operated for half a century at no cost to taxpayers has begun to drain funds from the City budget at a rapid rate. City operation of  the pool will exceed the costs borne historically  by a group of volunteers. Numerous assumptions have been made regarding pool usage without adequate operating data.  The only certainty is that swimmers will now be subsidized by Piedmont taxpayers, rather than swim club members.

Under City operation proposals, the pool will be open to as many swimmers as  legally allowed –  both residents and nonresidents at a bargain rate, thanks to a 50% subsidy from Piedmont taxpayers.  Over the years, this  limited community resource has been the subject of constant push and pull over time allocation for various groups and types of swimmers, yet will now be burdened by even greater use demands. “Piedmont Pools” will be a fun and cheaper day trip than Great America or Marine World.  People may line up to get into the pools early on sunny weekends.

The desire by City staff for significantly increased paid usage to cover the higher cost of running the pool creates a “Catch-22.”  Too much success will degrade the quality of swimming in the pool and ignore the often repeated public opposition to intensified development in the Civic Center by filling residential streets with parked cars and traffic. Too little success will result in even greater taxpayer subsidies than projected.

Piedmont currently faces inadequate reserves and many substantial new expenses, leading the City Administrator to point out last week that it is not possible for the City to do everything.  Piedmont’s long-standing policy that swimmers should pay for swimming has been abandoned.  Now the pool facility is the taxpayer’s responsibility and expense.

The April 5, 2010 City Staff report to the City Council recommended that a litmus test for any use of public land for a limited activity should be:  does the public, who are not activity participants, receive adequate compensation for the use of their property?   Yet, costs previously borne by the Piedmont Swim Club are being shifted onto taxpayers by the currently proposed fee structure.

As the City Council continues to take on new projects, the time has come to identify possible unintended consequences and financial burdens prior to taking action – by looking carefully before they leap into new taxpayer expenses.

Leave a Comment