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A splash of cold water

Town of CBS finds way to make deep savings at the pool, but Mayor allows it will put some people out

The Town of CBS has found a way to save some $180,000 in its budget next year by changing the operating hours and tinkering with the programming at the Recreation Complex, says Mayor Terry French. It’s the first move in what are some pretty tough budget discussions as council works out a spending and revenue plan for 2019, the mayor admitted. French allowed there’s a fair bit of change in the new Town of CBS finds way to make deep savings at the pool, but Mayor allows it will put some people out schedule.

“We’re trying to minimize it as much as we can,” he said. “There will be no change in the hours for the Silhouettes, or to the Bluefins, our swim teams. They’ll remain the same. I think on one day they’ll go an hour later in the afternoon.”

The biggest changes are in the public swimming sessions. Some of the sessions have been getting very low turnouts, French noted.

“We’ve been doing some numbers on it and we actually did a survey with some of the users of the public swims, and the seniors swims,” he said. “We had a shallow water fitness program three days a week averaging five people, for example. We had a seniors’ swim three times a week that was averaging eight people. We had a 1:30 p.m. swim averaging 11 (users).”

The annual operating cost of the pool amount to some $544,000 a year, French said. Up to the time of these changes, that entailed having some staff working split shifts, which meant higher labour costs, he added. With the change in the schedule, the pool won’t open until 2 p.m. on three days of the week, instead of the usual start at noon. Council also considered the demand for private swimming lessons that wasn’t being fully met, French said. By increasing the number of hours for those, the Town is able to increase the amount of revenue it takes in at the pool. The changes will see the pool going from 13 public swims to eight, from three seniors’ swims down to two, and the cutting of the shallow water fitness class to one session a week instead of the three that had been in place.

“Obviously, it will affect staffing,” said French. “It’s basically six hours a week less (operating) time at the pool, but there will a requirement for more hours for people teaching lessons… But it’s no secret, this was a cost savings measure.”

The changes will see a savings of $135,000, mostly in labour costs, and a projected increase of more than $45,000 in revenue from the provision of more swimming lessons, for the net benefit of $180,000.

“If you’re a regular swimmer, you’ll still be able to go just about every day of the week,” said the mayor. French said pools have to be subsidized. “But where do you draw the line?” he asked. “When you’ve got three people showing up for shallow water fitness, or two people, is it really worth the effort of having it? And when you’ve got eight people on average in the pool – so some days it’s 12 or 14 (people), but more days it’s three or four – it makes it tough.”

The mayor said he apologizes for any inconvenience it’s going to cause people, and is fully aware some swimmers are going to be put about it, but the numbers are very low for some of the swims. Is council looking at similar changes to the Town’s two hockey arenas?

“We’re looking at everything,” French said. “The only thing is, at peak times in the arena, they’re pretty busy. There are times throughout the day when the arenas are generally busy and even though there is lots of dead time in the arenas when there’s nothing (going on), you’ve still got to have a staff person there to keep the machinery running. So, it’s a little different environment, but I can assure you, we’re looking across all departments to try to find ways to save money.”

French said council and staff have had numerous budget meetings as it gets ready to finalize its 2018 spending plan, which by provincial law, has to be adopted before the end of 2018.

“There are tough decisions,” said French. “You know the way it gets: you weight it out and two or three people can live with it and two or three people can’t, for all kinds of reasons… We’re getting there, but there’s still a bit of this stuff to do. And, of course, we’re always concerned about taxes increases.”

French said nobody on council wants to raise taxes, but due to the state of the economy and the increasing costs the Town has in paying its bills, a tax increase is possible.

“You’ve got to either find savings, reduce services, or increase taxes,” said French. “That’s just the nature of it… But let me tell you, from a personal perspective, one of the reasons I ran for council was because I was absolutely fed up with the cost of my tax bill. That was probably one of the single biggest reasons I got on, to try to find ways to make it more efficient in running the town so that we wouldn’t have to pay the taxes that we have to pay. But everything is on the table right now, there’s no doubt about it.”

French said there are many things that it would be nice for the Town to be able to do, such as keeping the pool open longer or being able to provide enough staff to walk the dogs that are picked up by animal control.

“Although they are nice things to do, we’ve got to get back to fixing roads, snow clearing and the basic services that we have to provide, the life issues that we have to protect, like putting sidewalks down for the kids to walk to school,” he argued. “These are big ticket items that are not nice things to do, they are must dos. And that’s where we’re trying to focus now, on the must dos. Unfortunately, we might have to sacrifice some of the nice things to do.”

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