Our Opinion: Wilson council must seek buy-in on city pool plans | The Wilson Times
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Our Opinion: Wilson council must seek buy-in on city pool plans

Posted on July 12, 2021

OpinionEditorials
Lori Wiggs leads an Aqua Zumba class Wednesday at the Sunset Pool at Recreation Park.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Lori Wiggs leads an Aqua Zumba class Wednesday at the Sunset Pool at Recreation Park.

Wilson residents can contact the mayor and city council members to share their views on the city's proposed pool partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. This contact list also appears on the city of Wilson website.

Contributed photo

Wilson residents can contact the mayor and city council members to share their views on the city's proposed pool partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. This contact list also appears on the city of Wilson website.

Though this WilsonTimes.com poll isn't scientific, it provides a rough barometer that indicates the city's pool plan is at least controversial and at most outright unpopular.

Times screen capture

Though this WilsonTimes.com poll isn't scientific, it provides a rough barometer that indicates the city's pool plan is at least controversial and at most outright unpopular.

Lori Wiggs leads an Aqua Zumba class Wednesday at the Sunset Pool at Recreation Park.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Lori Wiggs leads an Aqua Zumba class Wednesday at the Sunset Pool at Recreation Park.

Wilson residents can contact the mayor and city council members to share their views on the city's proposed pool partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. This contact list also appears on the city of Wilson website.

Contributed photo

Wilson residents can contact the mayor and city council members to share their views on the city's proposed pool partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. This contact list also appears on the city of Wilson website.

Wilson residents can contact the mayor and city council members to share their views on the city's proposed pool partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. This contact list also appears on the city of Wilson website.
Though this WilsonTimes.com poll isn't scientific, it provides a rough barometer that indicates the city's pool plan is at least controversial and at most outright unpopular.
Lori Wiggs leads an Aqua Zumba class Wednesday at the Sunset Pool at Recreation Park.

A pitch to phase out public pools and outsource the city’s aquatics programs to the Wilson Family YMCA strikes some Wilsonians as all wet. 

City Hall reporter Brie Handgraaf’s Friday story on the pool proposal garnered plenty of feedback, with most comments on The Wilson Times’ Facebook page opposing city officials’ proposal to close the Wilson Recreation Center and Reid Street Community Center pools.

With 100 votes as of Monday morning, a WilsonTimes.com poll showed 66% of respondents in favor of keeping Wilson’s city pools open, 19% supporting the switch as a win-win for the city and the YMCA and 15% saying “maybe” to the change contingent on the Y honoring Wilson Parks and Recreation’s current prices for pool use. Though the poll isn’t scientific, it provides a rough barometer that indicates the plan is at least controversial and at most outright unpopular.

The Wilson Planning and Design Review Board approved plans for the new downtown YMCA in April. Design specifications called for a warm-water swimming pool and an eight-lane competition pool, with Carr Lebo of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting telling board members that the Y planned to collaborate with Wilson Parks and Rec for the competition pool.

In a June 3 work session, City Manager Grant Goings told Wilson City Council members that both public pool facilities are in need of costly renovations or replacement. He said the pools would already be on the chopping block for eventual closure, but the YMCA provided an opportunity to replace them with gleaming new pools that could continue the city’s aquatics programs.

Expanding on those remarks a month later, Goings said discussions between the city and YMCA to partner on a new aquatics center have been in progress for decades.

The current partnership proposal calls for the city of Wilson to pay the YMCA a $150,000 yearly allocation beginning in August 2022. That would save city taxpayers a quarter-million dollars a year, as Wilson spends more than $400,000 to operate its existing pools.

If city council members don’t approve the $150,000 allocation, plans for the new YMCA will change.

“Without the City’s support, the YMCA will need to redesign the aquatic space to be much less costly, yet also significantly reduce the services to the citizens of Wilson,” a draft copy of the proposed agreement states.

While the Times generally supports public-private partnerships that reduce the burden on taxpayers, the outpouring of concern from city residents gives us pause. Particularly troubling is the perception that city officials want to reduce public investment in recreation for east Wilson’s historically Black neighborhoods.

If the Wilson City Council wants to shift all city aquatics programs to the new YMCA, it must make every reasonable effort to ensure residents who use the Recreation Center and Reid Street pools will have the same access to the downtown Y. That will require a price guarantee and transportation assistance.

The draft agreement says the YMCA “will ensure access to YMCA membership or program participation to anyone, regardless of the participant’s ability to pay” and envisions a sliding scale for membership fees, noting that the scale “will be finalized closer to the opening of the facility.”

Subsidized memberships may meet many residents’ needs, but before signing on the dotted line, the city should negotiate with the Y to provide daily pool access at the same rates Wilson Parks and Recreation charges swimmers to use its pools. If residents are forced to pay a higher price, the city’s cost savings would ring hollow.

Accommodations also must be made for pool users who walk to the rec center and Reid Street center and would no longer be able to access the city’s pools on foot. Wilson’s Ride microtransit system could be pressed into service, with Wilson picking up the tab for round trips to and from the downtown YMCA.

Before voting on the pool partnership, Wilson City Council members should seek input from their constituents. A designated public hearing isn’t legally required, but scheduling a town hall-style meeting about the changes with opportunities for public comment would be a wise move.

Council members’ addresses, phone numbers and email addresses are available on the city’s website (click here to view the contact list or scroll to the third image displayed above). Each council meeting includes time reserved for public comment. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Wilson City Hall.

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