Editorial: Increase needed in pool fees

The Lawrence City Commission was right to increase fees for city swimming facilities. After all, city recreation facilities should be funded as much as possible by those who use them.

City commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to increase entrance fees by $2 over the next two years at Lawrence’s two aquatic centers — the outdoor center at 727 Kentucky St. and the indoor center at 4706 Overland Drive. The fee increases apply to all age groups, and the city will no longer provide free entry to 3- and 4-year-olds.

Aquatics is the most expensive recreation department function, Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers told commissioners. He said revenue from programming, rentals, entrance and other fees only covered 55 percent of 2017’s cost of operating the two aquatic centers. He said the ratio should be 70 percent or higher.

But Commissioner Leslie Soden said the discussion to increase the entrance fees was premature. The Parks and Recreation Department is working with a consultant to conduct a cost analysis of all the programs. The analysis is expected to be complete this summer. Soden, who cast the lone vote against raising pool fees, said she thought the city should wait until the analysis is complete before increasing any fees.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert argued that one of the goals in the city commission’s strategic plan is proper asset management, and increasing pool fees to cover more costs is aligned with that goal.

He also pointed out that current pool entrance fees are considerably lower than those of similar communities.

Current admission fees are free for children 4 and younger, $3 for children ages 5-17, $4 for adults and $3 for those older than 60. Beginning May 1, 3- and 4-year-olds will no longer be admitted free and pool entrance fees will increase by $1. Rates will increase by $1 again on Jan. 1, 2020.

According to city staff, cities such as Mission, Lenexa, Topeka and Olathe all charge $5 or more for entry.

Even with the fee increase, the department will continue to donate 5,000 free and discounted passes annually to social service organizations and other community groups. And city staff said discounts and promotions would be available throughout the year.

Implementing fees gradually over the next two years at the city’s pools is necessary to strengthen the ratio of user fees to sales tax revenue used to fund the aquatic centers. The city should look at other recreation facilities for similar adjustments.