Macon public pool hours may be cut

Macon’s public pools could be open just a few days each week this summer in just one example of how the city is trying to save money in a down economy.

Departments citywide have been told to slice 5 percent from their already tight budgets, Mayor Robert Reichert’s office confirmed Tuesday. Where those cuts will come from — and whether the City Council will sign off on them — will become more clear next month when budget negotiations get rolling.

For now, departments have been told to propose their own cuts, and the mayor hasn’t issued any edicts regarding layoffs or other measures, spokesman Andrew Blascovich said.

But already small signs of a city budget with few easy cuts left are showing. The Parks and Recreation Department has proposed keeping only two of the city’s six pools open on any given day during the middle of the summer.

All the pools would be open six days a week at first, opening on Memorial Day weekend as normal, Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Larry Fortson told council members Tuesday.

But starting July 5, the pools would open and close on a rotation. They also would close eight days earlier this year, shutting down when school begins.

“It’s not ideal,” Fortson said.

Councilman Tom Ellington called the rotation plan “a recipe for confusion.”

The mayor’s office supports the proposal, setting up a battle with council members dead-set against closing the pools. Several members said it’s shortsighted to save a little money — about $27,000 — by rotating pool openings when local pools give children something to do instead of causing trouble.

“I think it’s a downright disgrace,” Councilman Charles Jones said. “That’s the best thing in the world for them, swimming.”

Of course, there’s a way to avoid budget cuts: raising taxes. That’s becoming more and more of a possibility as the city deals with sagging revenues in a down economy. The downturn comes after years of financial troubles for the city, which led city leaders to delay major purchases and employee raises.

“Realistically speaking, I think every one of our departments would be hard pressed to cut 5 percent across the board and maintain the services that the city needs,” Council Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Cranford said.

“The obvious solution is that taxes may have to be raised if we want to maintain (services),” he said.

The choice between those two, Cranford said, is “a question for the taxpayers to answer.”

Employee layoffs are another possible avenue for large savings, but city leaders have shunned that avenue for several years now as the city’s budget situation worsened.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.