Within 24 hours of this column being posted (I’m writing it Tuesday morning), the Wallaceburg Sydenham District Pool should be off of the municipality’s closure list for 2013.
Municipal staff had recommended the pool’s closure in its draft budget released earlier this month, a recommendation which took virtually everyone but the authors of the report by surprise.
The move was made without the knowledge of council and without consultation with user groups or the Lambton Kent District School Board, which owns the facility.
It left the community blindsided.
The rationale was, of course, money. Municipal staff, struggling with ways to freeze or minimize tax increases, saw $166,000 in savings and jumped at it.
The savings in year one aren’t nearly that great, as the municipality would have to absorb $77,000 in costs for a six-month notice period before the closure could come into effect.
It didn’t take Wallaceburg (Ward 5) Coun. Sheldon Parsons long to bring the matter to light. His efforts in bringing the matter before the public got the discussion going.
Within days of it going public, Mayor Randy Hope was on radio trying to explain how this community could have potentially lost its pool without even knowing it was in danger.
His explanation wasn’t exactly successful, which led to more public indignation (the idea of a the multi-million dollar water park which opened in Chatham in 2011 versus closing a Wallaceburg institution which costs far less doesn’t sit well in north Kent).
The main reason the Sydenham pool will not be closed in the foreseeable future is that any decision on its operation is completely premature.
Last year the municipality embarked on a massive service review, a comprehensive examination of what municipal services are needed, what are affordable and where funds should be spent.
Closing the pool before that review is completed is like giving a platoon of soldiers a “READY! FIRE! AIM!” command. You’re going to make a lot of noise, but who knows what you’re going to hit.
I expect that council will move the pool off the closure list during this week’s budget sessions.
Chatham-Kent is trying to embrace a culture of physical fitness for its residents, (i.e. bike and hiking trails which have been popping up). Aqua therapy and exercise is extremely useful for those whose bodies don’t respond to the trauma of jogging.
Closing a pool to save less than the cost of running the mayor’s office for a year would be foolish.
Chatham administrators and council have a difficult job ahead of them. They need to balance many issues and examine every expenditure in terms of cost and value.
But they can’t lose site that hasty decisions made without adhering to an overall plan don’t benefit anyone.