With aquatic plan approved, Austin staff to look for pool funding

Come to us first if you need to close a swimming pool, the Austin City Council told staff Thursday evening as it passed a master plan for the city’s aquatic facilities.

The council punted on accepting the master plan last year amid outcry that it provided a framework for pool closures, as the plan recommended closing ten pools to save money. It came back to council this week with recommendations from a task force, which included requiring a vote of council to decommission any pool and pitching sending a $124 million bond proposal for aquatics to voters.

The council approved the plan 10-1, with the task force’s recommendations appended and with amendments asking staff members to study ways to reduce utility costs at the pools, various funding scenarios to repair them and possible new fees. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan opposed the plan, saying the city shouldn’t be building more pools.

“I cannot vote for a plan the recommends spending 40 percent of money on new facilities,” he said. “We have a system we cannot maintain.”

BACKGROUND: Tough choices as Austin council weighs a pools plan with new input

The consultant-produced master plan recommends building four to five new pools in underserved areas on the periphery of the city — including in Flannigan’s district.

Various elements of the task force’s recommendations, including the bond idea, remain just suggestions, not part of the actual plan. The amendments approved Thursday, from Council Member Alison Alter, direct staff members to look at an expedited process for improving pool infrastructure, possible waivers of utility fees, potential funding from private charities, potential funding from a 2018 bond package and potential fees for users.

“Our pools are on life support and we’ve been triaging them,” Alter said.

Some 13 city pools are expected to fail in the next five years. Council approval of the plan says nothing about whether funding for replacing the rapidly-deteriorating system will come through any mechanism. Council Member Greg Casar emphasized that, while he supports pools, he would not back funding their repair at a higher level than affordable housing.

The council’s vote followed a string of residents who turned out, wearing blue, to speak of their love for Austin neighborhood pools.

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