Aquatic center admission policy aims for equity, city says

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When the Hillsboro Family Aquatic Center opens this summer, the system used for charging admission will be new, too.

At its Jan. 27 special meeting, the Hillsboro City Council approved an admissions policy that will do away with the traditional season pass and begin a pay-when-you-play approach.

What city officials want families to know is that the new plan will be more equitable for everyone-and perhaps even more cost effective for a family-than the old season pass was.

Jodi Stutzman, aquatic director, said some people have already expressed concern about the new policy.

“It really concerns people because they love the fact that they can buy (a pass) once and then be fine,” she said. “The point I want to make is that, really, there are very few people who are actually going to be negatively affected by this change.”

Those people would be families who used the old pool a lot under a single pass.

“That’s fine (that they did that), because that was the way it was set up,” Stutzman said. “But the down side of that is they’re using their pass way more than what they paid for, and any margin that doesn’t get paid (through an admission fee) has to be paid somehow.

“Guess who gets to pay for it-the city.”

Based on data from last year’s pool usage, Stutzman said high-use families are the exception.

“At the other end of that are people who would spend $85 for a pass and come five times, and really not get their money’s worth at all. That’s not fair to them.”

What is fair, say city officials, is paying for pool privileges when you use them.

“Our goal is to create some type of system that is fair to everybody-or at least caters to everybody’s needs so that they can choose,” Stutzman said. “They pay for what they get and they get what they pay for.”

Rather than buy a season pass, Stutzman said, families can purchase single-day admission upon each visit, or buy packages of 10 admissions at a discounted rate.

The standard single-admission rate will vary by age. Children under 4 years of age will get in free; children age 4 to 17 will pay $2 per admission; adults age 18 through 64 will pay $3; and adults 65 and older will pay $2.

A discounted package of 10 admissions for children and adults 65 and over will cost $15 ($1.50 each) and $25 ($2.50 each) for adults 17 through 64.

“If they want to come 80 times (over the summer), they can buy eight packages,” Stutzman said. “If they want to come 20 times, they can just buy two.”

She said the $2 regular admission fee for children 4 to 17 is precisely what the charge was at the old pool last summer, so a discounted admission would be 25 percent less than last year’s fee.

“They will be saving money by choosing how many times they want to come,” Stutzman said.

In addition to people paying for use of the pool according to their need, Stutzman said the new policy gives families the flexibility of defining “family” to better fit their circumstances.

“It’s harder to define what a family is these days,” Stutzman said. “What about foster children? What about grandparents? What about baby-sitters?

“I actually had all three of these situations come up to me this past summer. You really want to include the baby-sitter, who probably comes more than the parents actually do.

“With the new system, you can create your own package of who you want to include,” she added. “Then, it can cater to the kind of family you have.”

Stutzman said she is hopeful the city will be receiving grant funding by summer that will enable families with low incomes to use the aquatic center for a reduced rate. Qualifications will be based on the school system’s free or reduced lunches program.

City Administrator Steve Garrett said, “Our goal is not to exclude anyone, but we do have to pay the bills.

“In the past, the way we paid those bills was to let your property taxes pay for them. Our approach now is, let’s go ahead and apply business principles here.”

Garrett said he believes the new admission policy will be fair and equitable for users as well as fiscally responsible for the city.

He said the increase in sales tax will pay for the construction of the aquatic center, but operating expenses must be covered by those who use the facility.

“We have to look at how we provide the service differently than we have in the past,” he said. “(The aquatic center) is not just a new pool in a new location. It’s a different animal altogether and we have to step up and run the thing right-the way people deserve it to be run.”

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