MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee members voiced agreement at their Feb. 6 meeting to raise Maplewood Community Pool membership rates in an effort to close a shortfall of approximately $40,000.
The Maplewood Community Pool is run as a utility and is meant to be self-sufficient, but Maplewood Swimming Pool Advisory Committee member Jennifer Coleman said that this is simply no longer the case.
“The Maplewood pool, as you know, is one of the true gems of our town, offering our community members a place to come together during the summer months. This year alone we served approximately 6,400 Maplewood residents at the pool, with a revenue of approximately $795,000,” Coleman told the committee members, explaining that pool’s operating expenses, however, are approximately $825,000, leaving that $40,000 gap. “The pool is intended to be run as a self-sustaining entity, as I think you all know. In recent years this has been a challenge, an ongoing challenge for the pool, which lacks a capital improvement fund to pay for the ongoing needed repairs and maintenance — just regular maintenance — coupled with decreasing pool membership revenues.”
Coleman laid out a slew of upcoming repairs that the pool will need in the next one to five years, including remarcasiting the dive pool tank and purchasing and installing a new main pool filter, one of the most pressing repairs on the horizon.
“The most immediate concern is that our pool filter is nearing the end, if not past the end, of its life expectancy and that is something that would be a major repair,” Committeeman Greg Lembrich, who is the liaison to the Swimming Pool Advisory Committee, said.
Coleman agreed, adding, “Unfortunately, these needs will only continue and there’s not enough money coming in from membership fees to both cover annual operating expenses as well as fund these very necessary capital improvements and repairs.”
Therefore, with an eye to keeping Maplewood’s pool prices comparable to surrounding municipality pools with similar offerings, the Maplewood Pool Advisory Committee is recommending increasing pool membership fees, as well as offering non-resident pool memberships at a marked-up price. The committee recommends an increase of approximately 5 percent for couples and between 9 and 10 percent for families; there would be no fee increase for seniors.
“When you look at our population base for the pool membership, we’ve got about 63 percent of membership population within that family category, so the committee felt that since that’s where we have the highest population, that’s where the burden of our increase should be in order to try to corroborate usage and fee increases proportionally by demographic usage,” Coleman said.
Additionally, the advisory committee recommends increasing swimming lessons from $25 to $35 — a price still well below area norms, according to Coleman. Also, holding a party at the pool cost $300 across the board last year; the advisory committee recommends lowering that fee to $250 for weekday parties to increase participation and increasing that fee to $500 for weekend parties, which have shown to be the most popular days to hold these parties. For preseason parties with exceptionally large groups of swimmers — requiring full pool staffing — the advisory committee recommends charging $10 per head.
As for non-resident pool membership, the advisory committee recommends capping it at 325 members and charging approximately 50 percent more for membership than is charged to Maplewood residents. South Orange residents will continue to be offered Maplewood prices, just as Maplewood residents are offered South Orange prices at the South Orange Community Pool. Lembrich added that, with declining membership, these additional non-resident members should not create any overcrowding problems.
“We believe that these changes are modest in light of the current needs of the pool and reflect best management practices,” Coleman said.
Committeewoman Nancy Adams questioned whether the changes would close the $40,000 gap; Coleman said they while they should, they would not provide funding for capital improvements. Adams stressed — and Coleman agreed — that the pool must do more to increase membership, which has been declining since 2010.
“I would like the pool advisory committee to maybe brainstorm and maybe figure out — I understand they don’t have any budget — but really some sort of campaign to increase membership,” Adams said. “When I moved to Maplewood and for many years after I moved here and before I moved here, there was a waiting list for the pool, so I’d like to see more aggressive outreach in some way.”
Lembrich added that the advisory committee is working with the recreation department to advertise the pool at new residential developments, such as Avalon Bay, which is a stone’s throw away from the pool.
Mayor Vic DeLuca discussed the bonding the township did for a slide at the pool in 2011; in approximately five years, DeLuca reminded committee members that they are expecting a payout from that. But Coleman stressed that the main pool filter may not last that long.
“I think we’re just worried that that day that we’re going to need significant funds may be coming sooner, rather than that payoff date, so we’re trying to prepare for that,” Coleman said.
Lembrich also stressed that the town must address two financial issues with the pool: operating expenses and maintenance needs.
“The pool committee, in looking at the finances for the pool going back the past several years, would like to do two things,” Lembrich said. “One is to address the gap currently between the operating expenses of the pool each year and the revenues that the pool brings in, and the second is to begin to establish a capital fund or at least some rainy day funds that exist, should emergency repairs or other improvements be needed.”
According to Lembrich, when capital improvement needs arise, the pool does not want to have to “come to the town on its knees groveling for town money.”
Township Committee members agreed overall with the advisory committee’s recommendations.
“I see the logic here and I think it makes a lot of sense, so I think I’m going to be on board with this,” Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee said, but cautioned that he hopes these increases will not affect the program currently in place to assist residents who cannot afford the pool.
Though Committeeman Dean Dafis was also concerned about affordability, he said, “If we want to have a pool, we have to increase the fees.”
Lembrich assured his fellow committee members that the advisory committee is doing all it can to expand the Pool Pals program, which helps Maplewood families afford pool membership.
The Township Committee is expected to introduce an ordinance proposing these pool membership fee increases at its Feb. 20 meeting.