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Sink or swim on public pools

No financial gains; 'It's solely a community service'

DIXON – No community goes into the swimming pool business to make a profit.

Breaking even?

That's just as far-fetched, said Elaine Russell, executive director of Princeton's park district, which has its own indoor and outdoor pools.

"It's solely a community service," Russell said.

Princeton's outdoor pool lost $46,427.81 last season, she said. The difference is covered by taxes and other income taken in by the park district.

At meetings, a hint of envy surfaces among about 40 supporters looking to reopen the Veterans Memorial Pool in Dixon.

Dixon residents have to travel 13 miles north to the smaller Polo to visit the closest outdoor public swimming pool.

The historic Veterans Memorial Pool in Dixon has been closed for more than a dozen years and could take at least $1 million to renovate.

The Illinois Department of Public Health shut down the pool because the proper water purity could not be maintained and the park district could not afford to make the necessary repairs.

Supporters asked: "How can a town of 2,000 people have a city pool, but Dixon can't?"

How are communities, such as Walnut, Princeton, Mount Carroll, etc., supporting their communities' pools against the inevitable deficits those facilities run?

"We definitely survive on the tax money that comes in," said Karyn Sommers-Buck, director of the Prophetstown Park District, which has operated a public indoor pool since 1966. "We wouldn't be able to do it just by the revenue we get, even with all our programs."

The story is the same in seemingly every community surrounding Dixon.

For example, Polo's Richard Gibbs Memorial Pool operates with an annual deficit of about $27,000, City Clerk Susie Corbitt said.

The outdoor pool, open 3 months of the year, is run by the city at an annual cost of a little more than $46,000. The deficit is covered by the town's general fund, meaning taxpayers foot the bill.

The $1.50 to $2.50 admission fees, plus lessons, bring in a little more than $19,000.

"Our community values its swimming pool," Corbitt said of the allocation.

A committee has raised more than $64,000 for big ticket renovations to the pool since January, Corbitt said.

In Mount Carroll, the swimming pool is levied at its maximum rate, but the general fund needs to kick in $5,000 to $8,000 a year to cover costs, said Julie Cuckler, city clerk and collector.

The seasonal outdoor pool cost $57,775 to operate last summer, she said.

The annual deficits caught up to Savanna and its indoor pool.

That city pool, open 9 weeks of the year, lost $83.88 a day and had to be closed Aug. 9 because of a lack of funds. A committee is exploring ways to generate new revenue, beyond the replacement tax that goes into funding the pool.

When Memorial Pool was opened more than a decade ago, the park district spent about $30,000 a year to keep it running, said Deb Carey, executive director of the Dixon Park District.

"It's always been our job to subsidize recreation for our community to enjoy at a low cost, just as we subsidize the soccer fields or the ball diamonds," Carey said. "There is a finite amount of money to subsidize recreation. We have to make a determination of what is best for the community."

The difficulty lies in maintaining the infrastructure of a swimming pool, Carey said.

In comparison, team fees handle the operational costs for softball at Reynolds Field, whereas admission fees would not cover a pool's costs.

The Pool Partners still are meeting with engineers, city officials and legal experts to come up with a plan to renovate Memorial Pool.

The park board has said it will cooperate with the group in its efforts.

Talks have not touched on funding the pool once it was repaired, although ideas of a separate committee to oversee operations has been mentioned at Pool Partners meetings.

Pool officials from surrounding communities advise Pool Partners to have that steady funding stream ready, if and when the pool reopens.

"I wish them luck," Russell said. "That pool is a treasure, and what a dream it would be if they could preserve it. It's going to cost more than just getting it up and running, though. There's going to have to be a plan to keep it funded."

How much is needed?

Annual funds needed to keep a swimming pool after revenues and expenses figured:

Mount Carroll (outdoor): $31,865

Oregon (indoor/year round): $190,000

Polo (outdoor): $26,942

Princeton (outdoor): $46,427

Savanna (indoor): $31,488

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