COUNCIL is hoping to save money and therefore reduce the financial burden on the ratepayers of South Gippsland by consolidating the management and operation of all the outdoor pools in the shire, with the exception of Toora. Contracts for the operation of pools expire on 30 June 2014.
In a more controversial move, at their meeting last Wednesday, councillors also approved increasing the opening temperature for outdoor facilities other than Toora to a minimum 26 degrees. Currently, the outdoor pools open if the forecast temperature is 21 degrees (Mirboo North) or 23 degrees for Foster, Poowong or Korumburra. Daily attendance figures from 2012/13 indicate significantly lower attendance at the outdoor pools on days of less than 26 degrees, so it is calculated that the proposed change is unlikely to reduce income significantly, but will result in considerable staff cost savings.
The mayor, Cr James Fawcett, described the new management plans as “the first tiny step towards a decent resolution of the pools issue in South Gippsland”. He said he was voting for the change as a way to maintain the status quo but yet maintain flexibility to determine the way ahead. “We need to look at the costs of maintenance,” he warned. “The biggest threat is a catastrophic failure, because we don’t have the funds to fix it.”
Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks acknowledged there were financial realities to be faced, but said pool committees were making big efforts to look at their options. He cited the Mirboo North community, which he said was looking at the possibility of the pool becoming part of a community hub. “They acknowledge they must pay for it, but look what the Sandy Point community achieved with their community centre! It is possible to pull a rabbit out of a hat!”
Crs Bob Newton and Don Hill voted against consolidating the management and operation of the pools, concerned about the new temperature rule and the Korumburra community losing kiosk management (Cr Newton) or that community involvement in pools could be lost as a result (Cr Hill). However, a majority of councillors voted for the motion.
Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the local pool committee has indicated widespread support for the Foster pool, the future of which is under a cloud because of low attendance figures in recent summers. The pool committee is awaiting the outcome of an April review.
Committee chair Lisa Barham-Lomax said she was pleased to have 172 responses – more than 10 per cent of the population of Foster – to the survey. The vast majority of the responses came from permanent residents, although a few holiday home owners and visitors responded, too.
The survey found that above all people liked the pool’s accessibility, with its in-town location. They also rated its pleasant grassy setting highly. Many people said they would be encouraged to use the pool more if the water was warmer or if the opening hours were more consistent.
Among the comments received was this: “Great location, pleasing environment and it’s a fantastic asset for our town. Apart from organised team sports and the skate park, it offers the only activity for young people, which is important, given their increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the growing incidence of obesity and associated ill-health. The same is true for older people. We need to encourage people to move more and sit less, and provide the facilities to enable that to occur. This pool should be considered an investment in the health of our community, not a cost to be eliminated.”
Many respondents regarded having the pool in Foster as very important. They said it was critically important for children to learn how to swim and it was important for the two schools in town to have somewhere to have swimming lessons and swimming sports.
Others commented: “We should not have to justify having a public utility which has been successfully in place for many years. We do not wish to travel to another town. Our schools also have swimming programs in place and the logistics of bussing children only creates more problems to parents and children” and “I really appreciate having a pool for regular lap swimming which is so easy to get to. However, the role of the pool in the Foster schools swimming programs is of the utmost importance.”
Ms Barham-Lomax thanked everyone who filled out the survey and said she particularly wished to thank the Foster community, the CWA, the Foster Community Association, Rotary, Foster Chamber of Commerce, South Gippsland Hospital, Prom Country Aged Care, Foster Primary School, South Gippsland Secondary College, and Foster football and cricket clubs for their support over the last season.
She said she hoped the shire councillors would be mindful of the survey results, which clearly show a huge amount of community support for the Foster pool.