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Fee increase at Barton Springs among host of aquatics centers plans

Thursday, September 13, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

A far-reaching analysis of changes in operations at the city’s pools and aquatics centers includes a jump in admission prices for Barton Springs, one of the city’s most popular tourist and recreation spots.

The new fee schedule included in a recent memo from the Parks and Recreation Department recommends adult resident admission at Barton Springs be increased to $5 in 2019 from the existing $3 – nonresident fees would increase to $9 from the current $8 – with similar new prices on tap for the city’s other municipal pools.

The increases are among a plethora of moves the parks department has on tap to address funding shortfalls and the growing needs of its aquatics facilities.

“That (fee increase) provides us with the means, especially in the Aquatics Division, to utilize because the past couple of years we’ve been over budget,” said Anthony Segura, assistant director of the Parks and Recreation Department. “This is allowing us to make up that gap.”

The memo from Kimberly McNeeley, acting director of the department, spells out the steps it is taking to work with the Public Works Department, Development Services Department and Austin Water to address operational and budgetary issues that have added unnecessary costs and maintenance needs at many of the city’s aquatics facilities.

As an example, the memo points out outstanding code and ordinance noncompliance issues identified during the planning process to develop the Govalle and Shipe neighborhood pools. Because those noncompliance issues are likely to add to the length of the approval process with Development Services, PARD has created a new planning and review process to detect and address similar problems as improvements take place at other facilities around the city.

Segura said the interaction with other departments that figure into the operations and improvement of aquatics facilities is a new step for PARD that is expected to reduce costs and the time frame for projects going forward. That was one of the directives given to the department by City Council following the approval earlier this year of the 2018 Aquatic Master Plan.

“This is our opportunity to bridge that gap that might’ve existed previously,” Segura said. “There has been work done together previously, but this is a better mechanism to keep at the forefront the things we need to do to improve efficiency of the operations of the department.”

The memo also details a review of wastewater expenses for the Aquatics Division that found the wastewater expenses of $285,000 in 2017 were likely twice as high as they should have been. That inflated rate was due in large part to a billing and estimated flow process that – at a test group of five pools and one splash pad – found the facilities actually generated one-tenth of the total wastewater they were being billed for. That review has resulted in monitoring changes and a partial rebate to the Aquatics Division, with the departments planning to work together going forward to make sure billing is accurate.

“We are exploring reduced rates and working to cut back, because some of those water bills are continuing to increase on a year-over-year basis, so there has to be a mechanism for us to work better with Austin Water,” Segura said.

The memo also spells out strategies for increased philanthropic support for the city’s aquatics facilities to pay for ongoing maintenance and development costs.

It also examines how some of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax funding could be used for pool projects – with Rosewood and Parque Zaragoza pools identified as possibly eligible for those funds – and lays out the funding scenarios for a selection of pools if the upcoming bond election is successful, generating $40 million in maintenance funding.

Photo by Spawnzilla [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

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