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Letters: Wausau should have free admission at pools

in News/Opinion

Dear editor,

The purpose of this letter is to inform the public concerning the status of free days at the City of Wausau pools, and let private organizations know of their ability to purchase more free days as a promotion and public service.    Last year at about this time, I wrote a similar piece in this publication (and others) urging City leaders to adopt a free admission policy at our three city pools.  The need was apparent then, and now.    Many kids in this community do not enjoy cabins up North during our too short  summer–in fact too many  families are just scraping by.  Nearly half the city’s kids are on subsidized or free school lunches.  Whether we want to admit it or not, Wausau (and Wisconsin as a whole) has not fully realized the economic benefits most other states did during the current recovery.    This area in particular has struggled with social, economic and cultural challenges for decades.
It is important to note that in terms of the city coffers, admissions are a mere pittance.  The city collects about $60,000 in total admissions at all three pools for the entire summer–and of course, it costs money to collect these fees.  I believe this sum a pittance for the city because it essentially represents  the approximate cost of a single half time city job!  Certainly not a lot of money for the city.  For this small cost,  we can effectively help keep kids off the streets and their electronic devises, and at the same time provide them with much needed exercise which is especially important in these days of increased childhood obesity.  More importantly is  that during their time at the pools kids are SUPERVISED.  Not to mention that  they enjoy wholesome fun and establish memories that will last a lifetime.
As noted above, early last summer,  I used this rationale to ask city leaders to consider elimination of  the pool  fees entirely  I continue to believe it is the desirable way forward.  While at  that time, the  City Council was somewhat receptive, for a variety of reasons, they were unwilling to totally eliminate admissions.  Their  argument  (which was hard to refute) was that budgeting had been done the previous fall, and free pools hadn’t been included.  However to the committee’s credit ( especially Parks and Recreation Chair Pat Peckham, and other progressive Council members),  there was majority recognition of the above stated needs and a desire for expanded (free) pool access, especially for children.  City leaders thus adopted a number of free days throughout the summer,  which was an improvement for sure, but far from what I sought or believed was needed–especially since it was a hodgepodge of days scattered randomly about the summer calendar.  There was some publicity at the time, so  consequently the first free day was a overwhelming  hit.   After that ( I believe) people apparently hadn’t kept track of the free schedule and attendance was similar on free as paid days.  In the fall, the Parks Department analyzed the data and determined ( I believed wrongly) that the free days cost the City a load of money, but was ineffective  because it didn’t increase overall attendance. I argued then, (and continue to believe) it was the random (almost byzantine) scheduling that people did not keep track after the initial free day.  Perhaps unintentionally, it was set up to fail.
Last fall, I again went before the City Council (when they were budgeting) , and of course they had the Parks Department report,  as well as Finance Director Mary Ann Groat and opponents arrayed at the meeting with reinforced arguments against extending free days.  Actually I believe they wanted to end them entirely except for Wednesday evenings. Groat, who is not an elected official, spoke  (inappropriately in my view), against the expenditure. I do not believe that it is the role of a staff city employee to speak on policy matters–but that is a personal view, and arguable.  Also in attendance and speaking eloquently for free admissions was former mayor John Robinson who has long advocated free admissions.  The naysayers on the committee argued that free Wednesday evenings were enough and that the past summer’s experience demonstrated that it was not a public priority.  I replied that the free Wednesday evenings conflicted with the concerts on the 400 bloc, and that there was no regularity to the previous summer’s free day schedule (except for Wednesday evenings).  The committee was almost evenly split, but what ultimately passed (by a single vote) was that every Sunday throughout the summer there  will be an opportunity for residents to use at one of the city’s pools without cost.  Also the free evening was moved to Thursday so as not to conflict with the concerts.  The following is the  remainder of the  summer’s schedule going forward.  It passed by a single vote.
The following is the schedule for the remainder of the summer.
FREE POOL DAYS
 
July 7–Shulenberg
July 14-Kaiser
July 21-Memorial
July 28-Shulenberg
August 4-Kaiser
Plus all Thursday evenings
So far, Marshfield Clinic was generous enough to purchase OPENING day,  and during the first 15 days of the season (and despite the few free days so far) the pools on free days attracted nearly as many users as all the all the many more paid days at all the other pools—COMBINED.  How about that?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Marshfield Clinic and any other free day donators.  Also give John Robinson a shout out.    But more importantly, I would  urge other businesses and organizations to purchase free days from the City County Parks Department.  The cost is modest.  A full day is just $1,000 at all three pools, and about a third of that for a single pool.  Such donations  can be  beneficial for advertising, PR, altruism, and of course a tax write off and can be accomplished through the City/County Parks Department  And as the above represents–it is needed and appreciated the community.
Phil Salamone of Wausau
Editor’s note: The views of our readers and guest columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot and Review. To submit a letter, email us at editor@wausaupilotandreview.comor mail letters to 500 N. Third St. Suite 208-8; Wausau, WI 54403.

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