June 7, 2017

Should ACC Charge Non-Residents More to Use Athens Pools?

Photo Credit: Austin Steele

Children play at the splash pad at Trail Creek Park.

The public swimming pools and splash pad in Athens have opened for the summer. For just $1, you can enter the pool grounds and swim or splash to your heart’s content. It’s an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon.

They price recreational outings a little differently in metro Atlanta.

A water park on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett County features two indoor pools. Outside, there’s a pool with zero-depth entry, two large water slides, a river channel, a bubble bench and other features, as well as nearby picnic tables.

Unlike the water facilities in Athens, spending the day at the West Gwinnett Park Aquatic Center isn’t cheap. When you enter, an attendant asks for the driver’s licenses of all adults planning to swim, checking to see if they live in or out of the county. Gwinnett County children and adults pay $3.25, $4.25 or $5.50 per person, depending on their age. Those outside the county pay $6.25, $8.25 or $10.50 to swim, splash and play. That’s almost double the entry fee of county residents.

The City of Gainesville also charges out-of-county residents a higher entrance fee at its Frances Meadows Aquatic Center.

In Athens-Clarke County, there is no difference in what county residents and outsiders pay. You want to go to the pool in Bishop Park? Just pay the $1 entrance fee. Whether you live in Bishop, Jefferson, Elberton, Oconee County or Athens, you pay just $1. The same is true for the pools at Thomas Lay Park and Memorial Park and the Trail Creek Park splash pad. Everyone from everywhere pays the same amount. The admission fee for Sandy Creek Park is $2 per person, no matter where you live. (Actually, Athens residents pay a bit more, because county property taxes help keep the parks operating.)

According to county officials, the pool at Bishop Park had admission fees totaling $7,538 in 2016. The East Athens Community Center pool brought in $2,494. The Rocksprings Park pool brought in $2,253 in 2016. And the Memorial Park had admission fees of $8,307. The splash pad brought in $17,853 in 2016. From Jan. 1–Dec. 31 of last year, Sandy Creek Park—which features a lake with a beach, as well as other amenities like fishing, hiking, ballfields and a playground—had $174,608 in entrance fees, and $11,490 in fees for special events.

When asked why ACC doesn’t differentiate in its pricing, County Manager Blaine Williams replied in a three-part email: Verifying someone’s residency would “complicate processing, increase existing traffic backups around these facilities/events and require residents without proof of residency to pay non-resident fees,” he wrote. He also said that most people don’t bring ID to pools, which don’t have secure storage places. Excluding the splash pad, Williams said, capacity at pools isn’t an issue. They function as community pools, not regional draws.

According to local ordinances, the ACC Mayor and Commission can set and amend fees for swimming pools and other facilities. The county manager may also approve new fees for six months before giving the Mayor and Commission a resolution for their adoption.

Commissioners Andy Herod, Kelly Girtz and Melissa Link, all of whom are on the Government Operations Committee—which would vet any proposed fee hikes—said they would support an increase in fees for out-of-county residents. “It seems simple enough to ask adults to show their driver's license or a utility bill to prove residency,” Link said.

Discussion of pool fees among county officials is part of what prompted Leisure Services officials to begin looking at the department’s fee structure again. Before she resigned last year to take a job in Greenville, SC, Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy was pushing to recoup more of the department’s costs from users and brought in a consultant, Colorado-based GreenPlay, to help. The Mayor and Commission tabled that discussion due to its complexity, interim Director Kent Kilpatrick said, but the department is preparing to present it again this fall.