Danedri Thompson
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Despite losing money in its operations last year, Jeff Stewart, Gardner Parks and Recreation Director, told city council members Nov. 1 that the 2010 season was a success.

“I think all in all things went very well. It was just a good pool season,” Stewart said.

Attendance for the year was also down slightly. In 2009, 97,984 people visited the Gardner Aquatic Center. In 2010, that number dropped to 89,163. Stewart said that could be due to a number of reasons.

This year’s pool season was one week shorter due to where Memorial Day fell on the calendar.

Second, he said new municipal pools in Olathe and Spring Hill may have siphoned visitors.

“We would compete for some of the same population,” Stewart said.

The aquatic center opened for business in 2007. It posted small profits in its first three years — $37,510 in 2007; $783 in 2008; and $5,455 in 2009 — but last season, the city lost money.

The pool brought in $421,385 in revenue in 2010. The revenues included more than $65,584 in concession sales, $172,044 in admission revenues, $31,842 in swim lessons and class fees and $4,980 in rental fees.

But the total revenues were not enough to cover the pool’s $436,169 in operational expenditures. The bulk of expenses were for personnel services, which cost the city more than $280,000.

Stewart told the council that some personnel expenses can be monitored. For example, he said if attendance is down, pool managers may send admissions desk employees home.

“On days when it’s slow due to weather, we are able to reduce staff,” he said. “We do look at that on a daily basis.”

Other expenditures included more than $125,000 in contractual fees and commodities purchases as well as more than $9,000 in capital outlay. At season’s end, the pool posted a $14,783 loss as operational expenses outpaced revenues by about 3 percent.

Stewart told the council it’s not unusual for municipalities to subsidize pool operations.

Between 2002 and 2006, before the new swimming pool was built, Gardner citizens subsidized pool operations between $56,485 and $73,342 per year.

However, Stewart said figures don’t include debt service. From 2002 to 2006, Gardner residents weren’t paying debt on the swimming pool. Voters approved a sales tax to fund construction of the aquatic center, but sales tax revenues have fallen short of projections.

Last year, the general fund subsidized pool and Celebration Park debt.

Stewart said other cities subsidize municipal pool operations at higher percentages. He polled De Soto, Overland Park, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Leawood, Shawnee Mission, Olathe, Bonner Springs and Merriam last November. Those cities reported they subsidize pool operations an average of 36 percent, compared to Gardner’s 3 percent.

Stewart said the survey did not ask about the debt service related to municipal pools in the other communities.