The Yankton City Commission was thinking about the future — and the past — Monday night when it approved a 2% increase in rates for the Huether Family Aquatics Center.
While this action may stir some questions and criticism, the modest hike seems appropriate, especially in a long-term context.
Under the new rates, the base price of a daily pass to the center will rise next year from $9 to $10, while a season pass base price will climb from $60 to $62. These numbers do not include taxes and fees.
The price was raised because of rising operational costs for the brand-new facility, which is a fact of life everywhere these days.
When some objections were posed to the price hike, City Manager Amy Leon mentioned the recent past, noting that efforts to hold down rates with the Summit Activities Center and the Fox Run Golf Course ultimately left the city with two facilities in need of big budgetary assistance. Pursuing that same path isn’t the wisest or most economical idea.
Granted, the aquatics center did lose money in its inaugural season, turning in a tentative operating loss of $51,876.
However, some context is needed here. First, Parks & Recreation Director Todd Larson noted that the old Fantle Memorial Park swimming pool was losing about $100,000 a year in its final few summers of operation. Also, the loss figure for the aquatic center doesn’t reflect early-season pass sales or sales that will occur between now and the rest of the year while the old rates still apply. The numbers also don’t factor in the impact the aquatics center likely had on overall city revenues as more people came in from out of town to use the facility and, subsequently, spent more money here. Certainly, Yankton has enjoyed a big year for sales tax revenues, although the aquatics center is not the only reason why. One thing that can be guaranteed is that any revenue tied to swimming was much better this year with the aquatic center than it was in the years before the center arrived.
Although the aquatics center tentatively lost money in 2021, it should be remembered that it’s a public service and not a profit generator. City Commissioner Tony Maibaum opposed raising the center’s rates for 2022 by noting he was unconcerned about the deficit the center showed. “I think (the aquatics center) is still a huge win for the community and we are, in fact, in the business of running services that aren’t necessarily intended to turn profits,” he said.
We agree, but it’s also important to make sure that such a service doesn’t eventually become too much of an expense generator or, as in the case of water rates a few years ago, doesn’t reach a point where a major increase is finally needed to adequately address ongoing costs.
The aquatics center is indeed a valuable addition for Yankton, and it proved to be a popular attraction in its debut summer. Overall, it has produced numerous benefits, financial and otherwise, that make it a prudent investment. Keeping up somewhat with rising costs is a practical approach in the operation of this popular facility and for the city itself.