Baltimore City Council president calls for pools to reopen

The president of the Baltimore City Council is demanding that the city tap its rainy-day fund to keep public pools open for two more weeks.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has scheduled a news conference Wednesday at Southeast Baltimore's City Springs pool to call on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to dig into the fund to reopen the pools, which closed for the season Sunday due to budget constraints.

"This is one of the hottest summers that we've had," said Young. "It's similar to the snowstorms. We don't normally have weather like this."

Young has asked the council to hold a special session Friday to pass a resolution demanding that pools remain open until the school year begins on Aug. 30. The plan has broad support among council members, although council resolutions are not legally binding.

Council members plan to solicit donations to help replenish the more than $400,000 that would be required to keep the pools open, a spokesman for Young said.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake cautioned that taking money from the rainy-day fund could adversely affect the city's bond rating. Officials drew $60 million from the fund earlier this summer to cover a shortfall from the previous budget year.

"The rainy-day fund is not to be used for funding future operations," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said. "It's for funding shortfalls at the end of the fiscal year."

O'Doherty said the administration had heard from several donors who are interested in helping to keep pools open. Earlier this week, J.P. Grant, president and CEO of Baltimore-based Grant Capital Management, pledged $90,000 to keep the Druid Hill Park pool in operation.

Some of the pools have already been drained and it could be very costly for them to be reopened, O'Doherty said. Lifeguards, maintenance staff and police protection would also have to be scheduled for the pools if they were to reopen.

"It requires a lot of legwork to be sure the pools can be opened," he said.

On Sunday, the city's six large park pools, 13 smaller neighborhood pools and seven shallow splash pools were closed. Three indoor pools remain open throughout the year.

Young said it was imperative that all pools be reopened as quickly as possible, despite the cost.

"It gives the kids someplace to be," he said. "I don't want the fire hydrants all over the city opened up, kids being pushed out into the street and getting hit by cars."

The shorter swim season — which lasted for about six weeks — is one of many service cuts approved by Rawlings-Blake and the council to close a $121 million budget deficit.

A preliminary spending plan slashed the aquatics program budget in half and would have resulted in about half of the pools' remaining closed throughout the summer. But, after much wrangling, council members approved a $50 million package of taxes and fees that restored $720,000 to the pools.

O'Doherty noted that none of the council members specifically asked for the proceeds of the new taxes to be used to keep pools open throughout the summer.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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