Aquatic center, funding discussed at Dallas council

City of Dallas

City of Dallas

DALLAS — The city of Dallas’ administrative committee will investigate other ways of paying for general fund support to the Dallas Aquatic Center.

The center and fears of its possible closure were a major topic at Monday’s Dallas City Council meeting, which was moved to the Dallas Civic Center because a crowd of nearly 100 attended.

Dallas Mayor Brian Dalton explained that there is no plan before the council to close the facility. He said the center has a membership of about 1,600 people and visits are increasing.

Dalton said the council approved a motion to look into other ways to pay for the infusion of general fund money used to balance the center’s budget — about $388,000 in the 2016-17 budget.

“I anticipate that the committee will study the situation in considerable detail and produce a well-considered recommendation for city action,” he said.

Still, users of the aquatic center asked why the question was posed now, pointing out that the center has never covered all of its expenses without help from the city.

Many users stated they would be willing help find solutions and testified to the benefits of the center for older adults and those who are rehabilitating from medical procedures.

“We are interested; we want to help,” said center user Laurel Woodworth. “We want to be part of the solution.”

Others who testified at the meeting said they would like police, fire and streets be a priority over the aquatic center and urged the city to find other sources to pay for it. One Dallas resident said he didn’t want to see the center closed, but said user fees should cover expenses.

“Why aren’t we charging what it costs?” he asked.

Center user and former city councilor Wes Scroggin, who was on the council when the facility was built, noted citizens voted to pay for its construction, but not its operation.

“There has never been a pool made that pays for itself. They are expensive to heat and staff,” he said. “If you can get the money out of someplace else, that’s great. That’s your job. But if you can’t, you can’t cut the pool. It’s well run.”

Dallas resident Gary Weis disagreed, saying the center shouldn’t have been built if police, fire and streets weren’t adequately funded.

“Then if there is money left over, fine, do whatever you want with the rest of it,” he said.

Woodworth noted there are other city functions that add to the livability of the community that don’t turn a profit either, such as parks and placing flowers in the downtown during the spring and summer months.

“I guess I’m wondering, why this, why now?” she asked.

In other business, the council:

• Approved a motion to have a resolution for adoption of the 2016-17 budget prepared for its June 20 meeting.

The budget totals $37 million, $10.9 million of which is in the general fund, the source for day-to-day operations in a number of city departments, including police, fire and EMS, community development, parks and the library.

The motion passed on a 6-2 vote with councilors Micky Garus and Jackie Lawson voting against it. Both councilors wanted to postpone approval to review the budget for any funding that could be transferred to street maintenance in the wake of failure of a bond for street repair on May 17.

“I don’t think we are ready to make this decision,” Garus said.

Council President Jim Fairchild said finding a solution to street maintenance will take time and meanwhile the city’s budget has to be approved before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

“We aren’t going to solve this immediately,” he said. “We don’t have to do all this tomorrow. But we do have, if we are going to operate a city, a bunch of timelines we have (to meet).”

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