Juneau’s Aquatics Board members are testing the waters with reduced prices in hopes that community members will take the plunge and become loyal users once more.
From a previous fee chart that offered 184 possible options between the two pools in town — with each center having varied prices — the new price plan offers just four pass options for four age groups. Aquatics Board member Max Mertz said prices aside, the universal price plan for the downtown Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool and the Dimond Park Aquatic Center in the valley should be easier for users to understand.
“Our goals for the pricing models are to, number one increase the number of users we have,” Mertz said. “That’s what we’re after, and we’re only going to increase the pool (membership) if we increase the value.”
An unlimited annual adult pass at Dimond Park and August Pool is currently set at $744 and $396, respectively. The revised fee for both centers is $261.75.
Members of the aquatics board presented the new pricing plan to the City and Borough of Juneau Committee of the Whole Monday night. It was the first presentation the Aquatics Board made before the Assembly since board members where appointed in June. The empowered board was tasked with overseeing facility operations, maintenance, development and marketing of Juneau’s two public pools. Juneau residents voted in favor of creating the Aquatics Board during the October 2014 municipal election.
Although Assembly members seemed pleased with the prospect of low prices, several wondered how revenue could go up with such drastic cuts at a time when usage is low. So far this year, the combined pools have seen 44,684 purchases, with 94 percent of those for single day passes. Only 23 all-access annual passes were purchased this year.
Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said with such low prices, membership would have to increase by half if they hoped to “break even.” With less daily pass options, and some increasing by a few dollars, he asked how they could be sure this new model would produce the results they were looking for.
Mertz said losses felt on the daily membership side will easily be countered by anticipated annual passes.
“When you do the math, it doesn’t take a lot more annual passes to make up for the potential loss in daily passes,” Mertz said. “The math is kind of on our side.”
But the math is also based on several unknowns.
Prices changes were made to appeal to user groups based on their past participation. Current trends show that 50 percent of pool users were 18 to 65 years old, while senior citizens only make up 5 percent. Based on what pool administrators see on a daily basis, CBJ Parks and Recreation director Kirk Duncan said he has reason to believe these numbers are wrong.
“I have deep suspect over our old point of sale system,” Duncan said of the usage report. “I just really don’t believe the numbers.”
With so many plans and different policies for the two pools, it’s difficult to track the information accurately, Duncan stressed. Across the two pools, 44,684 users were accounted for this past year, using any of 184 different pay categories. How many times the same person used a day pass or switched within pay categories is currently too difficult to successfully track.
A newly acquired fingerprint access system should break down that data barrier and give the board more reliable figures to analyze moving forward, Duncan said. The fingerprint system will cost $50,000, with $10,000 annually to maintain, and will be implemented at Juneau’s pools in January and other CBJ Parks and Recreation facilities by mid-February.
“I’m just wondering if we all need to (prepare) ourselves for the possibility that maybe you got your numbers a little wrong and we’ll have to pay (more) next year,” Mayor Greg Fisk said, also concerned lower prices won’t solve the revenue problem. It’s a reality Mertz and Duncan said they are prepared to accept if it comes to pass, but first reliable numbers have to present themselves.
“Right now we’re making decision on aquatics based on what we think will work,” Duncan said. “We need more good data to make fine-tuned decisions and that’s what we’ll be doing down the road.”
Several other moves are anticipated down the road, according to recent discussions at Aquatics Board finance committee meetings, but no other changes have officially been made outside of the pay scale. What board members are looking at includes decreasing the amount of staff on hand during slower hours and possibly reducing party space rental fees. In the end, Duncan said it’s all about making the pool the place to be in the community.
“People got out of the idea of swimming, just like people got out of the idea of using Eaglecrest,” Duncan said. “You just have to get people back in the habit of going for physical and social (reasons). ‘Hey, I’ll see you at the pool on Saturday morning,’ that kind of thing. Just getting back into the aquatics culture.”
The price changes will not go into effect until Jan. 4. Until then, comment cards for concerned community members will be available at both swimming locations and comments can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. A full list of the new prices is available at www.juneau.org/parkrec/DimondPark/.