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Florence Residents Plea for City to Reverse Decision Closing Aquatic Center

Some Florence residents urged city council to reconsider its decision to close the Florence Aquatic Center for the second consecutive summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am heartbroken," said a resident Jenna Kemper, expressing a sentiment shared by others, including government officials.

Mayor Diane Whalen said that the decision was not an easy one. Though the local COVID-19 situation is improving, with decreasing case counts and rapid vaccination, there remain concerns that positive cases could rise again.

But pools in other communities, including Covington, are reopening this summer after similarly being shuttered last year.

Kemper said that her children have grown up at the aquatic center and that her daughter qualified to be a lifeguard only to be told that her job would be eliminated.

Whalen explained that the costs of operating the pool coupled with the risk of a possible COVID spike and shutdown were too great.

"We are going to have a budget retreat and look at ways we could provide a better experience for people, more than just 60 to 80 days a year," said Whalen. "We're going to Master Plan it, and see if we can get more use out of it."

Since the aquatic center opened in 2004, the city, Whalen said, hoped it would cover its own expenses, but it hasn't.

The city has spent $3 million on the center since its opening, Whalen said, and costs between $200,000 and $300,000 each year. Even when it was closed last year, there were costs associated with filling the pool so that its lining did not deteriorate, the mayor said.

Resident Brian Kinross said that he has been a member of the center since it opened and was upset that members were not consulted.

"We want you to represent us, not nanny us," Kinross said. He argued that the pool is a community service not meant to be a money-maker.

Lisa Przanowski held back tears as she told council that her two daughters loved swimming at the center, and both qualified as lifeguards this year. One has now been assigned to another pool while the other has no job.

Tom Johnson, of Hebron, said that his four children had competed on the center's swim team, and that that experience aided in them becoming good citizens.

Councilman Josh Walton was very moved by the pleas of the residents, and although councilmembers had come to their difficult decision together at a caucus meeting, he asked if he could present a motion to delay or change the decision. He first moved that council stay the decision to close the pool this summer until the next council meeting in April, and in that interim study the numbers again.

No one seconded the motion and it died on the floor.

Walton next attempted to make a motion to reverse the decision to close the pool, but again failed to received a second.

"This is a very difficult decision," said Councilwoman Dr. Julie Metzger Aubuchon. "We have to weigh the good of every constituent, not just those who are pool members.  This doesn't make us popular. It is not an easy thing. We try to make a decision that we think is right for everybody. I am sorry."

In other business, council approved having the mayor sign an interlocal agreement with the City of Cincinnati, the Boone-Florence Water Commission, the Boone County Water District, and the City of Florence.

The Interlocal agreement establishes the terms for cooperation to plan, design and construct a major water transmission system for efficient, cost-effective delivery of treated water from the Cincinnati water system under the Ohio River to a reservoir and master meter site in Boone County, with water then pumped into the water distribution lines of the City of Florence and Boone County Water District.

The Water Service Agreement establishes the terms for Cincinnati to provide wholesale water service to Boone, Florence and the Water Commission. The first amendment to this agreement was made in 2008 to allow BFWC to sell water outside of Boone County to Bullock Pen.

The only proposed change to the existing agreement is to extend the expiration date by five years from March 2, 2028 to March 2, 2033.

Mayor Whalen reminded people that there will be an Easter event on April 3, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the city building on Ewing Boulevard, and the first 1,000 children ages 12 and under will receive Easter treats.

She also announced that there will be a cleanup effort April 19 to 25 where people can bring their trash to Tanners Lane at the Public Service Department.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor