By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
The Whitewater Aquatic & Fitness Center (WAFC), sometimes described as the “jewel” of the city, experienced a number of years of operating deficits, but reportedly was nearing the breakeven point in terms of operational income and expenses prior to the pandemic. That period presented many challenges, but progress is again being reported, with significant membership gains. The City of Whitewater (city) and the Whitewater Unified School District (WUSD) have both indicated that they are committed to reaching a new agreement wherein the WAFC will continue to operate. A subcommittee made up of WUSD Board members and Common Council members was appointed to facilitate negotiations. However, near the conclusion of the last subcommittee meeting on May 11, Save the Pool Committee organizer Jeffery Knight expressed the opinion that the two sides were farther apart than when they began negotiations in March.
The center has been operating for nearly two years without the benefit of a contract between the two entities. The proposals that were discussed at the May 11 meeting may be viewed in this agenda. In addition, at that meeting WUSD representatives, for the first time, indicated a willingness to pay the city for half of the $413,429 accumulated operating deficit. Areas of disagreement included the term for a new agreement, with the city asking for 15 years versus the district’s request for one to three years. WUSD proposed assuming responsibility for maintenance of the facility, contributing $250,000 annually to a capital improvement fund, and $7500 annually for use of the lap pool for summer school and swim season. The city preferred to share the contributions to the capital fund with WUSD and maintained that the $7500 payment for operations fell far short of what is necessary.
Subsequent city action after the May 11 meeting is described below, including a city staff-developed option wherein the city would only operate the fitness portion of the facility.
Common Council action on May 16
The Common Council discussed the negotiations in a closed session at its May 16 meeting, and afterwards in open session, took the following action, per a press release:
The City of Whitewater Common Council passed a motion at its meeting on May 16 directing the city manager and staff to present a four-year agreement that equally splits the operation and capital costs between the city and school district. The following option is being presented.
This option is based on the budgets provided and assumes an expense growth rate of 3% per year, membership rate (monthly membership fee) growth of 3% per year, and total membership growth rates of 5% in 2024 and 2025, and 3% for 2026.
Option Split contribution 4-year plan
Proposal to follow previous agreement format of 50/50 split
- Each entity would contribute $219,000 in 2024 increased in subsequent years by an inflation rate of 3% per year towards operational expenses.
- An additional [annual] $140,000 split between each organization would be paid to a separate capital fund for capital improvements as detailed in the Capital Improvement Plan.
- 4-year agreement
- City responsible for any operational deficit.
- This would amount to an estimated surplus of $1,233 in 2024, $23,394 in 2025, $38,190 in 2026 and $54,196 in 2027.
City Manager John Weidl provided the following comments on the proposal to the Banner.
“As far as action resulting from the common council, they directed staff via motion to put together a 4-year proposal splitting the capital and operational costs for the WAFC. In addition, the City is guaranteeing that the dollar amounts proposed in the budget are locked and that the school district will not be responsible for any deviations that require additional revenue.
We believe this addresses the WUSD’s desire for a smaller number of contract years in case things do not improve and addresses the primary concern of operational overruns creating unbudgeted liabilities for WUSD. Concurrently, this proposal addresses the city’s concern that we cannot continue improving membership numbers to stabilize the contribution levels from WUSD and the City if the funding plan is going to cut services and staffing. That will have the exact opposite effect on membership rates.”
Weidl also mentioned, per below, what might be described as a fallback position that was being developed by city staff. It has not yet been discussed with the Common Council, but may be included in the closed session on June 6.
“Staff is also working internally on a proposal that would only lease the space (at market rate or $15 a square foot) for the fitness center, spin and aerobic classes, and corresponding non-pool related amenities. In this situation we would go from the WAFC to the WFC! – An aerobic and anaerobic experience that will retain the 24-hour fitness component, spin and other fitness classes as well as a revamped focus on wellness and nutrition.
In this situation, WUSD will be free to run their swimming class and athletics free from city operations and they can staff and fund that operation on their own. And in this situation, they would have a stream of revenue from the City in terms of a market rate lease agreement on the space we’re renting for the WFC!! Staff will be ready to present those numbers by the end of the month [of May].
What’s becoming increasingly clear to the staff and elected officials is that without a contribution toward running the lap pool that is commensurate with their [WUSD’s] usage, the City needs to refocus on the services it can effectively provide with taxpayer dollars and let WUSD focus on how to plan and budget for their aquatics and swim related programming and athletics as the ultimate owner of the facility.”
Editor’s note: Weidl indicated that “WUSD’s cash contribution for this current year is $178,000…$128,000 of that is for earmarked operations, $50k for capital. So, their most recent offer includes exactly 5.4% of the operational funding level from the previous year.” He also stated that the operating cost for the lap pool is $230,000 annually versus the $7500 annual operating contribution that WUSD is proposing.
The next meeting of the WAFC subcommittee is scheduled for June 14.