The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department is trying to arrange access to public swimming pools in the next few months, while proposing the Paul Nelson Aquatic Center should remain closed until spring of 2021, due to COVID-19 concerns as well as the city's multimillion dollar city budget deficit.
“City residents have more than 50 years of positive experiences at the Paul Nelson Aquatics Center,” said Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada in a news release. "The City plans to find alternative locations over the summer months to offer those programs and services that are permitted under the current and future health orders."
Currently, the Santa Barbara County Health Order would only allow very restrictive use of outdoor swimming pools. The city would incur considerable added costs to accommodate a limited number of poll users at any time, according to a news release from the department.
According to the city's Recreation and Parks Department, a local swim club has offered to take over operations to help with the deficit. However this does not factor in the nearly $382,000 in annual fixed operating costs of heating, sanitizing pool water, cleaning and vacuuming pool, locker rooms, showers and restrooms. The club's proposal to collect revenue for swim lessons would divert funds needed for pool operating costs.
The city's proposal is the most effective way to minimize impacts to other programs that benefit Santa Maria city residents, Posada said. Budget restrictions would have to be made elsewhere that would jeopardize recreation programs, services, and partnerships affecting thousands of local children and teens, without postponing the opening of the pool.
Santa Maria will be entering its twelfth consecutive year of a multimillion dollar structural budget deficit. The gap is exacerbated by the pandemic and business closures.
City revenues are projected to plunge by a staggering $10.8 million over the next two years. The city may resort to using millions of dollars from emergency reserves to maintain public safety and other programs. Those reserves are not designated for leisure programs.
If the proposal for pool closure is rejected, cuts would have to be found elsewhere, Posada said. Cuts could be made to youth programs, such as the summer and school year Safe and Strong activities at local parks, the recently expanded teen programming established for issues of youth violence and to efforts to keep parks safe, clean and functional.
While the pool will still require maintenance while not in public use, the costs would still be greatly reduced, to nearly $400,000 per year, according to the news release.