Mary Suhm was right about one thing: When I asked her Thursday where she saw the council pushing back on her proposed FY2011-12 budget, she said, well, probably pools -- specifically, her suggestion that the city shutter five of its 17 pools in the coming fiscal year. Those pools: Bonnie View, Exline, Glendale, H. R. Moore and Samuell-Grand. Two of them, Glendale and Bonnie View, are in Dwaine Caraway's district. Which is why he spent a good chunk of this morning's budget briefing lambasting Park and Rec head Paul Dyer for the Park Board's suggestion to close the pools.
"It was a very difficult decision ...," said Dyer.
"A difficult suggestion," Caraway interrupted him. "A suggestion."
Dyer said "it wasn't an easy choice," but "the fact is we were short on funding and tried to come up with the best options." Which meant shuttering five pools. It costs around $50,000 to $60,000 annually to fund each pool, Dyer said, and the Park Board decided that low attendance at those spots necessitated their closing. Caraway said: Not on his watch.
"I'll say this to the mayor first: I will not support closing any pool in the city of Dallas, but I will be the most unhappy council member the council has ever seen if we think we're going to close Glendale or Bonnie View," he said. "It is unacceptable, Mr Dyer. Whatever it is that has to be done to find the necessary dollars to maintain those pools open, then that is what I must and intend to see. It is record heat out here [and] we're closing pools? ... I don't want to see it."
What followed was an brief sneak peek about the future of Dallas's aquatic program. Because as far as Caraway's concerned, the city does a lousy job of promoting its pools to folks living in and around its cement ponds. Why, for instance, doesn't Park and Rec hold events at its pools: "Did we think out of the box and say, 'Let's do a midnight swim party at Glendale to bring up revenue' and get adults back involved
To which Dyer responded by insisting the city's "tried to increase pool particpation, but the fact of the matter is these pools don't serve the public the way they used to." He said the board's presently looking at overhauling its pools and aquatic program in the hopes of opening more aquatic centers, like the Bachman Indoor Pool.
In the suburbs, Dyer said, "pools are being taken out, and family aquatic centers are being put in. It's what families want. It's the right choice. .. The plan in the future will bring the city an aquatic system people will enjoy."
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Fine, Caraway said, but that does nothing about now. And if he has to get out there and put a hose in the pool, fine, that's what he'll do. Because, he said, "Every time we close something, DeSoto, Cedar Hill they open something, and our folks go, and once they go we can't get 'em back. Once they go somewhere else and get comfortable, it's going to be heck to get them back."
Caraway then came back to a golden-oldie: the November referendum that allowed for the citywide sale of beer and wine: "Where's the $33 million increase in revenue from beer and wine?" he asked, referring to Ray Perryman's study given to the council in July 2010. Suhm told Caraway, look, that number wasn't right and she said so back then. To which Caraway responded: "The only reason we went completely wet is we were told $33 million would go into the general fund." Well, no, that wasn't the only reason.
Most of the council appears otherwise OK with the budget, save for details here and there involving, say, court fines, community prosecutors (Caraway and Delia Jasso want to keep theirs, but federal funds paying for them are drying up), arts funding (Ann Margolin wants it restored), library materials (there's an increase, but it's still way down after years' worth of guts).
Jasso also wondered: Why are we listing the opening-in-2012 Belo Garden as a positive, when it's going to cost money to maintain the thing ever year?