Congratulations to Lawrence city commissioners for putting the brakes on proposed increases in admission fees for the Lawrence Aquatic Center.
Commissioners recently had agreed to double the fees as part of next year's budget. On Friday, they agreed to more moderate increases. In the new pricing scheme, children under 13 will pay $1.25 instead of $1 and adults over 17 will pay $2.75 instead of $2. A new category will be added for swimmers from 13 to 17. Those teens now are charged the adult rate of $2, and will pay $2.50 at the pool next year.
The plan to double the pool rates drew a predictable protest from people who complained that the new prices would make it impossible for many low- and moderate-income residents to enjoy the pool as much as they do now. City officials responded that taking the family to the pool was extremely affordable when compared to other forms of family entertainment in Lawrence.
It's true that it is less expensive to go for a swim than to go to the movies, but that really misses the point. It would make as much sense to say the Lawrence Public Library should start charging for books or computer access because whatever it would charge would be a bargain compared to the price of buying a book or a computer.
The goal of the municipal swimming pool is not to be a competitor of private entertainment venues. Lawrence residents pay taxes to support the pool, city parks and recreation centers. They also pay taxes to support paved streets and police and fire protection. These are city services that should be available to everyone in Lawrence. It's appropriate for the people who use some recreation services to also pay an additional fee, such as an admission price to the pool. It's not appropriate, however, for those fees to be set at a "competitive" level.
City taxpayers subsidize the pool and other recreation services because they want Lawrence to be a good community that offers a certain quality of life to all of its residents. Specifically, recreation facilities and programs in Lawrence are supported by a 1-cent sales tax. Some city officials have put forth grand plans for using the revenue from that tax to build huge recreation facilities. The outcry about increased pool rates may indicate that those recreation dollars would be better spent on basic facilities that everyone can afford than on grander facilities that must be subsidized by revenue from sizable admission fees.
The decision to raise the pool fees at a more moderate rate is a good one, and one that city officials might refer back to as they plan additional recreation facilities in Lawrence.