Thanks to donations, city park pools to stay open through Labor Day

More than $400,000 will reopen five city swimming holes closed because of budget gap

August 11, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

City park pools will stay open through Labor Day, thanks to more than $400,000 in donations from an individual and the T. Rowe Price Foundation, according to the mayor's office.

The donations from the unnamed individual and the Price foundation — $300,00 and $117,000 respectively — come on the heels of Council President Bernard C."Jack" Young's public demand to reopen the city's pools for two more weeks. Young had a press conference earlier Wednesday calling on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to dig into the city's rainy day fund to reopen the pools, which closed for the season Sunday due to budget constraints.

"This is one of the hottest summers that we've had," said Young. "It's similar to the snowstorms. We don't normally have weather like this."

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake cautioned that taking money from the rainy-day fund could adversely affect the city's bond rating. Officials drew $60 million from the fund earlier this summer to cover a shortfall from the previous budget year.

"The rainy-day fund is not to be used for funding future operations," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said. "It's for funding shortfalls at the end of the fiscal year."

O'Doherty said the administration had heard from several donors who are interested in helping to keep pools open. Earlier this week, J.P. Grant, president and CEO of Baltimore-based Grant Capital Management, pledged $90,000 to keep the Druid Hill Park pool in operation.

With the new donations, the Cherry Hill, Roosevelt, Patterson Park, Riverside and Clifton Park pools will open today.

Young had asked the council to hold a special session Friday to pass a resolution demanding that pools remain open until the school year begins on Aug. 30. The plan has broad support among council members, although council resolutions are not legally binding.

A spokesman for Young also said that council members planned to solicit donations. According to city officials, $177,000 is needed to re-open neighborhood pools.

Some of the pools have already been drained and it could be very costly for them to be reopened, O'Doherty said. Lifeguards, maintenance staff and police protection would also have to be scheduled for the pools if they were to reopen.

"It requires a lot of legwork to be sure the pools can be opened," he said.

On Sunday, the city's six large park pools, 13 smaller neighborhood pools and seven shallow splash pools were closed. Three indoor pools remain open throughout the year.

Young said it was imperative that all pools be reopened as quickly as possible, despite the cost.

"It gives the kids someplace to be," he said. "I don't want the fire hydrants all over the city opened up, kids being pushed out into the street and getting hit by cars."

The shorter swim season — which lasted for about six weeks — is one of many service cuts approved by Rawlings-Blake and the council to close a $121 million budget deficit.

A preliminary spending plan slashed the aquatics program budget in half and would have resulted in about half of the pools' remaining closed throughout the summer. But, after much wrangling, council members approved a $50 million package of taxes and fees that restored $720,000 to the pools.

O'Doherty noted that none of the council members specifically asked for the proceeds of the new taxes to be used to keep pools open throughout the summer.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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