Who knew lifeguards at the rec center would be emblematic of this year’s city budget woes?
As City Manager Andy Barton pointed out in a recent press release “Over the past few months, there have been a handful times when the pool has been closed because no lifeguards were available.”
The Mesquite Local News received several letters to the editor regarding the lack of lifeguards that required closing the indoor swimming pool for popular classes. Karen Sonnenberg pointed out in her letter that “as a senior, the pool is beneficial to the aging body for a number of health issues.”
Here’s one thing Barton didn’t say in his press release. Part of the problem of hiring enough lifeguards to oversee the rec center pool is the inability of the city to compete with wages paid by private companies.
Many qualified lifeguards are lured to local hotel resorts by higher pay. That’s the American way. If you can make a dollar more an hour somewhere else, wouldn’t you go?
As Barton later pointed out to the MLN, “if we increase the lifeguard pay to compete, we have to take the money from someplace else in the budget.”
The city increased rec center membership rates in 2014, the first time in more than five years. It raised the daily use pass a whole dollar, from $2 a day for youth and seniors and $5 for adults to $3 and $6 respectively.
A monthly membership for seniors is now $25 and $38 for adults. An annual membership is currently set at $120 and $200.
So seniors who pay for a year’s worth of usage average $10 a month. Assuming the person uses the pool three days a week for 52 weeks, that’s about 77 cents per visit.
Every one of us assumes that private business will set its fees to at least cover its costs. Those that don’t simply go out of business.
But we expect, and in some cases demand, that public entities such as the rec center, continue to provide us extremely low rates regardless of its increasing costs. And then complain when that entity can’t afford to purchase a new pool heater or hire lifeguards.
Mesquite has the second lowest property tax rate in Clark County, with only Boulder City charging less. As a side note, Boulder City receives millions of dollars from land leases that allows it to keep its tax rate low.
The last time Mesquite residents saw their property taxes go up was 2004. But the last time the city saw its costs go up was, uh, last week.
City Finance Director David Empey recently released preliminary numbers going into this year’s budget cycle that showed a $2.7 million shortfall between revenues and what departmental directors say are their true expenditures.
Yes, that shortfall will diminish but at what cost to the residents?
People complain now that there’s no code enforcement. That position was cut long ago because of budget problems. What next? Streets that won’t be pristinely maintained? Not enough firefighters or police officers?
Something has to give. The city simply can’t continue on the path it’s been on the last five years.
I am not a tax-and-spend willy-nilly. I don’t want to see my taxes go up any more than the next guy. I want my money spent wisely.
But I also want excellent services from my government and I’m willing to pay for them.
As Councilman George Rapson said at the April 12 council meeting in response to Empey’s projections, “The community needs to understand that we have to increase revenues and decreases expenses to get a balanced budget. We can’t keep running deficits and stay solvent.”
He also added that 75 percent of the budget goes to employee salaries and benefits and that in order to balance the budget “that probably means chopping heads.”
Those that use the rec center pool have already experienced that prediction firsthand with the lifeguard situation.
Yes, we can, and I have, argued that recent union employee contracts have not been in the best interest of a balanced budget. But that is what it is.
When the rec center last updated its fees in 2014 several people, including the former director of Athletics and Leisure Services department, swore up and down of the dire effects any increase would have. He predicted a severe drop in patrons therefore making the financial situation worse.
As Barton pointed out in his press release, rec center visitations rates have gone up. And get this, after the rate increase, the rec center had a “record-breaking 100,000 visits to the facility.”
Who knew higher fees would lead to higher visitation.
So, here’s the deal folks.
You get what you pay for. If you want a first-class rec center with a pool open every day all day, 77 cents a visit isn’t going to help that happen.