Assembly approves aquatics board; delays plan to place ice rink under ski area board

The Augustus Brown facility includes two pools, a sauna and an exercise area. (Photo by Aaron Russell)

The Augustus Brown Swimming Pool and Dimond Park Aquatic Center could be managed by a single board, under a proposal before the Juneau Assembly. (Photo by Aaron Russell)

Juneau voters will be asked in October if an empowered board should be created to run both city-owned swimming pools.

The Assembly Monday approved a ballot proposition to establish such a board in the City and Borough charter.

The idea has been around several years — since the inception of the Dimond Park Aquatic Center — but got new life in April when the city was cutting the budget and suggested shutting down the Augustus Brown pool.

Both pools are run by the CBJ Department of Parks and Recreation. A volunteer Aquatic Facilities Advisory Board offers advice.

“We on the advisory board believe the empowered board is a superior model to the advisory board,” said vice chair Bob Storer.

Storer said such an operating board would have the ability to raise revenue outside of city taxes and user fees, and decisions would be made in a more public process.

“The users would come; they would have the opportunity to hear the conflicts of users and budget and things like that, and it would be in a public arena,” he said.

Glacier Swim Club Board President Patty Ray told the Assembly that an empowered board could run the pools better than the city.

“As a user group our experience has been one of increased user fees every year, reduced pool time, reduced access and I understand that those things are necessary given our budget considerations, but I also think an empowered board will have a bit better ability to efficiently run our pools,” Ray said.

Eaglecrest Ski Area has become the model for the proposed aquatics board. An Eaglecrest board of directors sets operating policy and hires the manager. While Eaglecrest has reached about 70 percent cost recovery, it will always have city general fund support.

That means the Assembly can tinker with its budget.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said the board model doesn’t really protect an enterprise from budget cuts.

“In a tough budget situation this year we took a highly successful board that’s met its operating budget cost-recovery targets for several years and we whacked their operating budget. And then we went ahead and whacked their capital budget, too. So if anyone finds themselves under the impression that the pools are protected by an enterprise board, I encourage you to look at our recent history,” Kiehl said.

Though the empowered aquatics board got the Assembly’s support, Kiehl and other members said they don’t have enough information to tell voters whether or not it’s a good idea. As Finance chair Karen Crane said, “The devil’s in the details.”

The issue will be on the October 7th municipal election ballot. Voters will be asked if the city charter should be amended to allow the Assembly to actually create to new aquatics board.

Meanwhile, the Assembly decided to hold off on a proposal to put Treadwell Arena under the Eaglecrest board.

Both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Eaglecrest board said the idea was too vague.

Mike Stanley is chairman of the Eaglecrest board.

“There’s too many issues, too many questions about what this would all mean. Not only for Eaglecrest, but also for Treadwell,” Stanley said.

In a letter to the Assembly, the board laid out numerous questions, just the beginning of those that would need to be answered before the ski area board could assume control of the ice arena.

The Assembly decided to create a task force to come up with the answers and a report  by February. The Assembly plans to address the issue again next March as it begins working on the CBJ budget.