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Park district loses $40,000 in first season of pool management

The Vashon Park District lost approximately $40,000 during its first summer managing the Vashon Pool, about $36,000 more than the $3,700 loss the park district projected when it figured its 2010 budget in January.

Wendy Braicks, the park district’s executive director, said King County knew Vashon would need some help when it took over management of the pool last year. The county gave the park district $75,000 to get it through its first few years of running the pool — funds the district will now rely on to fill the pool’s large deficit.

“That will help us get through the first few years. … We expected to take a loss the first few years until we get on our feet,” Braicks said.

A number of unforeseen factors contributed to the larger-than-expected shortfall, Braicks said. Among them, the district had to cover several unexpected repairs and one-time purchases — such as a $3,000 pool vacuum and $3,700 for employee uniforms.

In addition, the district discovered a need to hire cashiers to work the front desk, adding employee wages not figured into the original budget. “Aside from the one-time expenses, the major difference is we had more employees than we expected in our original plan, and we had to pick up a few things,” she said.

Also contributing to the district’s loss was low attendance during the unusually poor weather the Island experienced this summer. “We definitely feel that the weather was a negative impact for us. … We had some of the those rainy, cold days and we had 20 people at the pool,” she said.

Lessons weren’t as popular as the district had hoped either, bringing in only about half of the $32,000 in projected revenues.

While the funds from the county will cover the pool’s losses this year, Braicks and other park district officials are already looking at ways to cut costs and increase revenues at the pool next year. Like the park district’s 2011 operating budget — which officials are working to cut by 10 percent — Braicks said they are looking at the pool’s budget from all angles, having taken some lessons from this summer’s experience.

As part of the process, Braicks said, a park district committee created to help shape the pool’s direction is considering some 40 comment cards that Islanders turned in. While feedback was positive overall, several Islanders identified areas that could use tweaking.

“Most of the users were very, very happy” Braicks said, “Some people were unhappy with the schedule.”

Robert Brooks, who volunteers on the pool committee and helped create the pool’s schedule, said that while the park district offered longer swim times than the county did, it sometimes had to close the pool during peak hours due to rental agreements the county had made with various groups before the park district took over its management.

“They honored that commitment and that was important, but that’s something we can schedule and work around next year,” he said.

In addition, Brooks said, he believes the committee will work to schedule swimming lessons at times that work better for families and coincide less with popular swim times. “It’s a small facility for a lot of people who want to use it. … It’s great a job to marry all those interests into a successful solution,” he said.

Park district commissioner and pool committee member LuAnn Branch said that despite the pool’s steep losses, she believes the first season was an overall success. “I think it was a good summer,” she said. “I think the community feels a sense of ownership of the pool. I sense that already.”

Both Braicks and Branch said that although the district is using over half of the $75,000 provided by King County to supplement pool expenses this year, they aren’t worried about the pools future.

“As our learning curve of how to operate the pool more efficiently gets better and we find out what works for our community, we’ll get better,” Branch said.

Braicks said both she and board of commissioners are now taking a realistic approach to the pool’s budget, understanding that public pools rarely make money and often don’t break even either. She said her early estimates project that the pool will lose around $20,000 next season, a number she hopes to see shrink each year.

“Maybe it will never break even, but hopefully it will be more affordable for the community to maintain,” Braiks said.

Branch believes that as long as the community shows support for a pool, the district will find a way to sustain its operations.

“This isn’t the most plush time for everyone, so we have to be prepared to step up and decide what our priorities are as a community,” Branch said. “And the park staff thinks the community wants a pool. We’re hearing that resoundingly.”

 

Community Events, April 2014

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