ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro City Council heard Wednesday from the first citizen who has come to a public meeting to address the city’s admission policy at the new aquatic center.
Sarah Penner, 218 S. Washington, asked the council to revisit its policy not to offer a season pass and instead to charge per daily admission.
“When we have something new, change takes a while to get used to,” Penner said. “But I believe that in doing away with season tickets and changing the fees, we have stepped away from what the purpose of the pool is, which is to be a community resource.”
Penner contended that families with several children that previously could save up to buy an $80 season pass for the whole family in past years would not be able to use the pool as often with the current daily fee. This would be particularly true for lower-income families.
“It seems to me what we’ve done with the new fee structure is keeping out people we built the pool for,” she said.
Noting that one of the council members works for the school system, she said, “You know there are families in our community who don’t have a lot of money to spend.
“From the community standpoint, we have always tried to look after each other and take care of each other in hard times,” she added. “That’s the kind of community we are.”
Penner said she understood that the price of a season pass may need to be increased with construction of a new pool. But she said it was important to offer families that option.
Councilor Matt Hiebert said none of the people who have come to him privately to lobby for a season pass have come up with a “fair price” for one at the new pool.
Hiebert said one person told him she’d be willing to pay as much as $180, but, he added, “She was probably one of the few that would say, ‘I’d pay $180 for a season pass.'”
Penner said she understood the challenge of pricing a season pass, but felt it needed to be done.
“If you come up with a figure that you think is reasonable and people don’t buy it, then you’ve done your job as a city council to try to make this (pool) available to everyone who wants to use it,” she said.
“We’re not expecting you to be magicians about this.”
In response to Penner’s plea for fairness, Councilor Len Coryea said he had difficulty feeling sympathy for parents who say they need a season family pass because they have multiple children to pay for, while some families have one child or none at all.
“Because a person decides to have four children, they’re the ones who come up and say, ‘I chose to have a large family; now give me a financial break for it,'” he said. “Is there fairness there?”
Hiebert said a lot of factors need to be considered.
“In the past, we had abuse of season passes, where (one pass) would be used for basically the extended family,” he said.
Even with the new fee structure, Hiebert said the city is not intending to profit financially from the new pool.
“Contrary to what (the project manager) tells us, that a pool can make money, we have always said we are not planning on making any money on this,” he said.
Added City Administrator Steve Garrett: “We’d like not to lose any more than we have in the past, though.”
As for increasing the city’s subsidy of the pool in order to make it more affordable for families, Hiebert said: “I guarantee you if we have to subsidize this by raising people’s property tax, we’re not going to have you come in and ask about passes. We’re going to have people come in and say, ‘I don’t ever use that pool-why are you raising my property tax to pay for it?'”
Penner said her primary request was that council take another look at the issue from the perspective that the pool is a community resource.
Mayor Delores Dalke said there was no question that the council would be revisiting the admission policy once the pool season is over. The council will have data about usage and costs that can be compared with data collected last season.
“Of course we’ll review it, because we have to as we work toward our budget for next year,” Dalke said. “We need to find out how much more money we are losing this year than we lost last year-because we’ve always lost money on (the pool).”
Penner asked the council to inform the public of its conclusion.
“I think people need to know that if they come to you with concerns and ask you to take a look at them, that you show that you’ve done that-regardless of what you come up with,” she said.
Dalke thanked Penner for bringing her concerns to a council meeting. She said she and members of the council have received feedback on the issue privately, but no one previously had surfaced the issue with the entire council.
During the discussion, Garrett clarified one aspect of the admission policy: an admission serves as a pass for the entire day; the patron can leave the pool and return later that day without having to pay a second admission.