By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
On Tuesday, the Corsicana City Council voted to a pursue agreements with the new water park that could lead to closing the city’s public pools, and putting up some money in an escrow account to help ensure the debt for the park. Tuesday’s vote didn’t commit the city to anything except further talks. The final vote will be after the contracts have been drawn up.
Not all the reactions have been in favor of these ideas. Garnering the most condemnation is the proposal to close the city pools at Jester and Bunert parks, and give city residents a discounted season pass to the new water park.
City Manager Connie Standridge said she has gotten some e-mails and she’s had the other departments forward any calls and comments they’ve received.
“Evidently, a lot of people don’t want to see the pools mothballed,” she said. “The two are separate proposals. I don’t know if the two are contingent on one another or not.”
This past summer, 5,019 people paid single admission to get into Jester Park Pool, and another 565 paid to get into Bunert Park Pool. However, they rented out Jester for 100 private parties, and Bunert for another 50 parties. Using conservative estimates from the pool manager and parks director, it would be fair to add another 5,600 visitors to the pool because of the parties, or about 11,184 people in all.
The city spent about $78,000 on the pools, and made $25,565.30 on attendance, concessions and parties, for a total loss of $52,434.70 in 2013. This next year that figure is expected to be a little higher because the pools need about $20,000 in repairs before they can open, according to Charles Liest, public works director.
The idea behind shutting the pools had been to save some of that money, Standridge said.
“A lot of cities are going away from pools to spray parks because of the liability, and cost of staffing and operations,” she said. “The pools in the upcoming budget are budgeted to lose $62,000. Taking into account the costs and income, it’s a negative $62,000. If we can pay the water park to provide low-cost entrance fees for the residents of Corsicana and write them a check for, say, $30,000, then you’ve saved $30,000 for the bottom line of your budget.”
“The intent was to save the city money,” Standridge said. “There was no other motive for that other than to reduce the cost of providing those services to the city.”
The talks between the city and the water park have been on-going since the project was first proposed almost two years ago, but discussions about these two possible deals began within the last two weeks, Standridge said. The discussions included the water park management, the city manager, Mayor Chuck McClanahan and Councilman John McClung, who is involved with the water park and has abstained from voting on any issues pertaining to it.
The first hint the other council members got of the discussions was when they got their packets Friday, which included some paperwork on the proposals.
“To discuss with them things on the agenda prior to the meeting could be an open meetings violation,” Standridge said. “What I thought was fairly clear was that this is not the final time the council will see it. The final discussion will rest with the council. It’s not finalized at this point.”
The other part of the proposal, which is a separate idea, would be to put $300,000 of the city’s reserve fund into an escrow account to help guarantee the debt payment on the park for the first two years. It would require the city’s approval to be spent, and if it’s not used then the money will revert to the city after two years.
“In return for that, we get a 5 percent ownership of the park, the first right of refusal to buy it — I’m not saying we want to buy it but we’d have the first right of refusal — and also a say in the operations of the park,” Standridge said. “I think that’s important to have a voice in the operation of the park.”
Council members haven’t exactly been inundated, but they’ve gotten some feedback from city residents. Facebook, which can be an indication of public sentiment, has logged dozens of comments on the issue, most of them against closing the pools.
Mayor McClanahan said he’s gotten comments both negative and positive about the pool closing idea. He said he’s waiting to hear the details before he decides. Tuesday’s vote was just a move to go forward with the negotiations.
“I’m still open to where the facts lead us,” he said. “From the beginning of the park we looked at maybe being a partner in it. That idea’s been going on a long time.
“The council will get a lot more information before they take a vote,” McClanahan said.
Ruby Williams, precinct 2, who voted against starting the talks with the water park, said she’s had numerous conversations in the community. Without her asking people tell her they don’t want the pools closed.
“Most people say ‘I agree with you about not closing the pools.’ A lot of people are not for it,” Williams said. “They’re thinking that if they close the pools our children will not have access to the new water park. They want the pools available for the community. The problem with our children is accessibility, finding a way out there. They can walk to (city pools), and the fees are cheap.”
Tom Wilson, precinct 1, said he’s been following the discussions on social media, and he’s heard from some of his constituents on the issue, and he’ll vote accordingly when the time comes.
“I’m against shutting the swimming pools down. That’s not something I’m going to vote for,” he said. “I’m very much for the water park. I think it’s a great thing for our city and hopefully something that will be very successful, but to shut down our park pools that our kiddoes need for recreation, and fun and lessons, and can get to conveniently, I’m not ready to vote on giving that up. I’m going to vote for everything I can to make the (water park) successful, but not on closing the swimming pools down. Nearly everyone I’ve heard from has been against shutting them down, and I feel the same way.”
Don Denbow, precinct 4, said he’s not heard that much from his constituents, having gotten only one e-mail. It was opposing the pool closings, he said.
“But honestly, that’s the only one,” he said.
John McClung, precinct 3, said he’s only heard from one resident, and that person was positive about the proposals.
“He said it just makes so much sense with the loss of money that represents,” McClung said.
Under the ownership agreement, the city would also be eligible to participate in the profit-sharing. If the park proves successful, the city would collect between $90,000 and $100,000 in profits each year. That money could be used to repair the city pools, if that’s how the city wants to spend it, he said.
Members of the parks board weren’t told about the potential deals before Tuesday, but Chairman of the Parks Board Terry Seth said he would like to know more about the details before deciding.
“I know what they’re trying to do, but Jester Park’s been a part of this community for a lot of years,” Seth said. “I can see both sides. A lot of families can’t afford going to the new park. I’ve had a few people talk to me about it, asking if the city can keep Jester open, or keep both of them open. I’ve had some families say if we can’t afford it what are we going to do? The problem is going to be if they give a discount for a season pass a lot of people won’t be able to afford that big dollar amount at once.
“You want Corsicana to move forward, to have the opportunity to see something come in, but at the same time, Jester Park is definitely used during the summer. The water park’s going to be a great addition to Corsicana, but you hate to lose what you’ve got.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com