East Macon pool to stay open longer

jgaines@macon.comJune 24, 2014 

A Macon-Bibb County committee voted 4-1 Tuesday morning to keep the swimming pool at East Macon Park open six days a week instead of three.

The request grew from a resolution by Commissioner Elaine Lucas, which originally asked for five of the six public pools to be open at least five days a week. Commissioner Gary Bechtel was the only dissenting vote in the Operations & Finance Committee, of which he is chairman.

The resolution and other items approved Tuesday will be up for a final vote at the July 1 regular commission meeting, but Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty indicated his willingness to start preparing for the additional pool days at East Macon Park before the full commission vote.

Five pools are open now on alternating days. The Freedom Park pool remains closed due to its poor condition.

Mayor Robert Reichert said he didn’t support Lucas’ proposal, but not because he wanted to close pools.

“I don’t think ‘opposed’ is quite the right word,” he said. The city-county government just can’t afford to keep all pools open every day, Reichert said.

Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty said when all the pools were open all week two years ago, they required a $200,000 annual subsidy. It cost another $20,000 to fill the pools and maintain their equipment, but the pools only brought in about $18,000 in revenue, according to his written report.

Last year, when three pools were open, the required subsidy fell to $70,000, Dougherty said. Opening five pools six days a week would require hiring more lifeguards and using more chemicals, costing at least $48,000 more, Dougherty’s report said.

“We would need to hire more lifeguards. That’s the biggest issue,” he said.

Dougherty also questioned whether opening pools more often would really serve many more residents. While pools each drew an average of about 100 swimmers per day in their first couple weeks, attendance always drops off dramatically after that, he said. This year is no exception, with patrons at each pool down to about 40 or 45 per day, and that’s expected to continue dropping, Dougherty said.

Bechtel asked which pool is busiest.

“East Macon, and that’s because of the (water) slide,” drawing people from all parts of town, Dougherty said.

Bechtel suggested opening the East Macon pool five days a week to test how attendance holds up.

Lucas asked how much subsidy the government-owned Bowden Golf Course gets each year, and County Manager Dale Walker told her it was $400,000.

From that starting point, Commissioner Virgil Watkins asked whether the golf course has also been cut back. The way course operation is structured, there’s not much that can be cut, Dougherty replied.

Dougherty confirmed, though, that the course is open seven days a week.

Watkins asked who actually made the decision to only open pools on alternating days.

“I did this,” Reichert said. The mayor told commissioners that the pool opening debate was a “perfect example” of their meddling in details that should be left to the administration. It was a “mistake on your part” to go beyond setting general policy, Reichert said.

Lucas, while calling Reichert’s decision “lame-brained,” then said she’d settle for an “acceptable compromise” -- but she also wanted to add more basketball programs.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger made a motion to keep the East Macon pool open six days a week. Lucas accepted Schlesinger’s substitute proposal.

Dougherty said it will probably be a couple of weeks before that can be done, since it will likely require finding more certified lifeguards.

Bechtel said he voted no because -- as Reichert said -- setting specific schedules isn’t a commission function.

Payroll problem

Hundreds of Macon-Bibb County employees were asked this week to re-enter their hours worked after “some sort of human error” in preparing the current payroll, but there will be no delay in issuing paychecks as usual, Finance Director Christy Iuliucci told commissioners at a nonvoting Tuesday afternoon work session.

Early Monday it was discovered that there were two “batches” open in which workers could enter their hours, she said. One of those had to be deleted, and though Information Technology staff worked for hours to recover the deleted data, it couldn’t be accurately assigned to the right employees, Iuliucci said. Departments were quickly notified. About 600 of the government’s 2,000 employees didn’t have to re-enter their time, and another 600 hadn’t yet entered it before the problem was discovered, she said.

Finance staff have worked hard to catch up, so at no point was there doubt that people would be paid on time, Iuliucci said.

Climate change

Reichert gave commissioners a look at a “climate protection agreement” presented at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting he recently attended in Dallas, Texas.

“I have indicated to them that we are interested in pursuing this,” Reichert said.

It calls for national lobbying efforts to protect the environment, reduce waste and greenhouse gases, and work toward energy independence. It also calls for “local action” including conservation plans and environmentally friendly land-use policies.

Reichert said he plans to submit a resolution to commissioners for formal endorsement of the agreement.

In other business, commissioners accepted an Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan for local government buildings by a 4-0 vote in the Facilities & Engineering Committee. Tillman, the chairman, was absent.

Doron Dvorak, compliance officer for Macon-Bibb County, said the plan shows what modifications need to be made to government buildings. Michael Leverett and Andreena Patton of Disability Connections said they want to offer input on what changes are needed to allow full access for the disabled.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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