The city of Upper Arlington expects the two public swimming pools that opened June 15 will operate in the red because of the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Upper Arlington has three municipal pools, and city officials expect a deficit of up to $200,000 to operate only two this summer.
According to officials, the deficit is a result of the opening of the pools being pushed back from Memorial Day weekend, pandemic-related social distancing that will result in capping attendance at 100 per 90-minute time slot and keeping the Reed Road Water Park closed for the season.
“In addition to that, we’re going to have to increase supplies for cleaning, our disinfection and our personal-protective equipment for our employees,” said Debbie McLaughlin, Upper Arlington parks and recreation director.
Even before the pandemic, the Parks and Rec Department expected a deficit of approximately $69,500 because of the purchase of new equipment at RRWP, which included a public-address system, security cameras, Wi-Fi, lounge chairs and a pool vacuum.
Now the deficit is expected to be $80,000 to $200,000, depending on the number of people who decide to purchase daily passes at Tremont and Devon pools for $7 per time slot.
“Typically, we do not operate at a deficit,” McLaughlin said.
In most years, McLaughlin said, the pools generate about $750,000 of revenues and pool expenses “are very close to that for operating.”
“This year, we’re anticipating revenues being in the range of about $450,000 and expenses that could be anywhere from $500,000 to over $600,000 based on if we operate the two pools at the capacity we're proposing.”
Those estimates, McLaughlin said, are based on projections of capacity being 60% to 75% of a normal year.
In addition, 15 more employees, at a cost of about $42,000, will be hired to help monitor and enforce social distancing, McLaughlin said.
If attendance estimates are lower than projected, she said, the city might lift the new restriction that prohibits non-residents from swimming at UA pools this summer.
“The pools operate within the Swimming Pool Fund, which is a self-sustaining fund separate from the (city’s) General Fund,” she said. “This fund has a balance of $450,000 which would be used to offset the deficit.”
During a May 19 Upper Arlington City Council conference session, council members said they supported operating the pools in the face of a projected deficit because doing so would provide recreation opportunities the community has been lacking throughout the pandemic.
“I know most members of this council were encouraging staff that if there’s a way we can open pools – even if we have to (financially) subsidize it,” Councilman Jim Lynch said. “It’s something our residents need after a hard year. We all empathize with the challenges our families have had.”
City Manager Steve Schoeny said the move wouldn’t put the city’s finances in jeopardy.
“We’re going to see the benefits of the wise financial management that we’ve had for years,” he said.
Schoeny added that city officials will continue to monitor expenses and look for ways to supplement them through federal assistance programs that have been enacted in the wake of the pandemic.
“We’re going to track everything, and we’re going to look for every dollar that we can get – whatever resource we can,” he said. “I think (pools) is the first place where Upper Arlington is really and truly seeing an extraordinary expense related to COVID.”