Editor's note: With Hermiston considering construction of an aquatic center, the following article regarding Astoria's experience regarding an all-indoor facility may be of interest.
ASTORIA - Burnside residents Dan and Nancy Wahlbom attend a weekly swim group for people with multiple sclerosis. They say pool exercises help them keep their mobility and stay fit while battling the disease.
"I can't walk the Riverwalk, but I can walk here in the water," Nancy Wahlbom said.
Yet they're concerned, like others in their group, about another increase in fees for the pool that could lessen the amount of time they can afford to spend there.
These fee increases are part of a plan to generate revenue for the indoor pool in response to decreased funding from the city and a drop in the number of people using the pool.
Adult general admission for Astoria residents will increase from $4.13 to $4.38, and youth general admission will increase from $3.25 to $3.50. Nonresident fees - already more expensive - will increase from $3.50 to $3.85 for children and from $4.40 to $4.75 for adults.
In addition to fee increases, Kevin Beck, the city's parks and community services director, said he'll have to coordinate a fund-raising effort, perhaps even forming another "friends of the Aquatic Center committee" and create new marketing plans to drive up pool use. These revenue strategies form part of a supplemental budget that Beck will present to the Astoria City Council in early December.
When the Astoria Aquatic Center opened in June 1998, city leaders never expected the pool to be profitable, and most would have been happy to see it break even. But a tight city budget has made it impossible for the city to completely cover the gap between the pool's revenue and costs.
Most municipal pools operate with financial support from their cities, and Astoria is no exception. Last fiscal year it received $115,000 from the city's general fund to break even. But as the city budget became even tighter this year, that subsidy shrank to $30,000.
In comparison, the Lively-Springfield pool in Lane County receives $475,000 from the Willamalane Park and Recreation District, the Dallas aquatic center receives a $262,500 subsidy from the city and Corvallis gives its pool $175,070, according to a study by Mount Hood Community College on aquatic center fees.
Now in its fourth year of operation, the popularity of the pool has waned, officials concede. What has not decreased, however, is the amount of money it takes to keep the pool running, and so that means fees must increase.
The pool's entire budget is $490,000. To help cover costs with the city's $30,000 subsidy, Beck said he'll have to raise $25,000 through fund-raising and $15,000 through better marketing. The fee increases should amount to $17,000 in extra revenue. Marketing efforts would include advertising for group rates and trying to secure corporate memberships, he said.
"We'll need to do all those things to survive on a $30,000 subsidy," he said.
Mayor Willis Van Dusen said he believes the pool is a success story because it has continued to operate so well despite an ever-decreasing subsidy from the city. He said no public pool is designed to be a money-maker and Astoria's has done well in continuing to provide a quality service despite increasing budget problems.
"I want to encourage Kevin Beck and other staff people to not be defensive about the pool. It is going very well," he said.
Beck said the center more than makes up for its share of the city's resources by adding another feature for tourists and providing recreational opportunities for Astoria's young people. It does this at a cost-level that nearly any resident can afford and enjoy its services. If the center has to raise its rates much more that accessibility could be endangered, he said.
"I could easily set outlandish fees that would make sense on a budget paper - but I'd turn away half of my customers," he said.