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Aquatic park losses go a bit deeper





The Hays Recreation Commission's pools cost the city of Hays more money than previously reported.

The Hays City Commission voted Thursday to compensate HRC $20,451 for half of its shortfall in pool operations budget. The city's contract with HRC states the two parties must split any surplus or deficit.

With the subsidy included, the city will spend approximately $105,000 on pool facilities in 2013, said Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager. The figure includes the city's maintenance expenditures and a $30,000 wood-staining project. Only a surplus in the pool budget can go toward recouping maintenance costs.

The arrangement with the HRC saves money because it is more efficient with operations, and the city can focus on the pools' maintenance and safety, Dougherty said. Privatizing the pools might lead to higher admission prices and less of a focus on preventative maintenance.

The HRC presented the city commission a plan to raise admission prices at the park from $3 to $4, but commissioners have not voted on the proposal. The increase would reap $20,000 to $25,000 next year, if attendance remains steady.

The drop in revenue was attributed to weather. Hays Aquatic Park was not open seven days this summer because of weather, and the average temperature at noon was 81 degrees. The decline in attendance at the park from 2012 to 2013 cost $20,331.

Dougherty said the weather is beyond control, and every indication suggests HRC is doing the best it can.

"A bad season to me would be defined as good potential for attendance and revenues coupled with a large request for subsidy," he said.

The pools provide a service that might not be profitable every year.

"It's a quality-of-life expenditure. It's just like our golf course, it's just like our sports complex, it's just like every park we have," he said. "They're community assets. They make the community a better place to live, and they don't really generate money."

Because the pools are funded by the sales tax rather than property taxes, visitors in Hays help support the facilities.

The community is well-served by the pools when weather permits, Dougherty said.

"If you go down there on a warm summer day, it's very busy. No matter what day of the week, it's very well-utilized and people are happy," he said.