May 10, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Taxpayers will continue to foot most of the bill for operation of the City of La Grandes swimming pool, the 50-year-old facility which was renovated for $2.6 million three years ago and turned into a year-round indoor center.

Revenue has hovered around the $100,000-a-year mark since we reopened, said Ron Perkins, assistant to the city manager.

Looking at the proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Perkins sees estimated income of $98,526 and expenses of $275,921.

Thats a $177,395 shortfall, he said. Come on down, local taxpayer!

The income for 1999-2000 was $100,412 after being $112,044 for 1998-99.

Perkins said he has tried a number of things to increase use of the pool at Pioneer Park, heavily advertising some of them. These included a half-price admission for both adults and children during all of December 2000, he said. That plan drew only 1,155 patrons for that month compared to the 1,078 for December 1999, when the full price was charged.

The half-price deal dropped the income for December 2000 to $2,690. It was $4,469 for the same month in 1999.

Attendance this fiscal year, which ends June 30, will be down from the 23,277 of 1999-2000. If the same number patronize the pool in May and June as did a year ago, the total patrons for this fiscal year will be 21,726.

Use by students has been encouraged, including offering learn-to-swim sessions for every third grader in Union County. That program had students from La Grande, Imbler, Union and the La Grande Christian School and home-schooled students


The high school swim team uses the pool, and a second team at the middle school has been formed, Perkins said.

The city added an outdoor $262,012 kiddie splash park and wading pool in September 1999.

That helped us see an increase in adults, who brought their kids, Perkins said.

The staff has been reduced, by attrition, in recent months, but employees will have to increase as summer approaches, Perkins said.

The main pool indoors is divided into a nine-lap, 25-meter-long deep end, and a 37-by-60-foot area that is 3-to-4-feet deep for other activities, including a 56-foot water slide.

Its a maintenance-intensified building, he said. Energy costs are expected to rise by 30 percent during the next year, he said.

Another thing that concerns Perkins is that there is no money in the budget for long-term maintenance. If some need arises, we will come back to the city council and ask for money from the contingency fund.

The operating deficit had been expected. In 1996, consultants advised the city that annual operating costs would be $228,900 and that the pool would take in $132,000 a year from fees, admissions, classes, rental and concessions.

The pool took in $20,000 the first month after it reopened in July 1998. But some of that was for multi-month passes bought that month. Monthly receipts fell off after that to end the six months of calendar 1998 with $58,346 in revenue, about what was expected.

Voters approved a $2.6 million bond levy in 1996, requesting a no-frills indoor pool. Veterans Memorial Pool had been shut down in 1990 because of tax-limiting measures and because the pool needed repairs.