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Northern Utah water parks are fun, drain taxes

Published June 20, 2013 10:52 am

Public service • Government officials point to health benefits, duty to taxpayers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Layton • Autumn Larson swam in ponds when she was a kid, and that worked fine. But the 34-year-old Layton woman doesn't like her city financing a water park.

"I think taxpayer money is funding too [many] things," she said.

Nicole Fleming has a different view. She takes her children to the Clearfield Aquatic Center, which gets taxpayer support, once a week during the summer and four to five times over the course of the winter.

"It's a good way to be part of the community," Fleming said, adding that her kids have fun there.

Three water parks in Davis and Weber counties — Layton's Surf N' Swim, Clearfield's Aquatic Center and North Ogden's North Shore Aquatic Center — offer lessons in what public recreation costs the residents. An examination of budget documents show the three facilities do not make a profit and their respective cities are carrying long-term debt to keep them afloat.

In Layton, Surf N' Swim is managed to be as self-sustaining as possible. But it earns only $480,000 in tickets and concessions, and requires almost the same amount every year from the city's general fund to keep its doors open.

North Ogden gave its aquatic center almost $4,000 from the general fund last year and is paying about $200,000 a year for a bond that was issued to pay for the initial cost of the facility. That $4 million bond will cost the city a little more than $6 million over the course of 20 years.

Clearfield pays an average of 92 percent of the operating costs for its center, taking about $125,000 from the city's general fund, and will continue to make an $805,920 bond payment every year until the $12 million center is paid off.

The biggest expense for all three water facilities is salaries. Layton, which spends more than $560,000 on salaries, has two full-time employees and provides 60 to 100 part-time jobs, depending on the time of year.

Clearfield has five full-time employees and 100 to 151 part-time employees, costing just under $1 million annually.

North Ogden has two full-time employees and 60 to 65 part-time employees, which costs $212,564 a year.

Layton's Surf N' Swim is open year-round thanks to a removable enclosure that covers the pool in the winter.

The facility "would be completely profitable if we chose to close in the winter," Parks and Recreation Director, David Price, said.

But he said the Layton City Council wants to keep it open for residents.

Officials in Clearfield and Layton say there are good reasons for the pool expenses, pointing to thousands of swim lessons at the facilities and the fitness programs and classes held there, including some for senior citizens. Layton also has three high school swim teams that use Surf N' Swim for practice.

"It's a great place for taxpayer money to go," said Clearfield resident Heidi Farner, who takes her kids to the Aquatic Center a couple times a year.

Employees in Clearfield, Layton and North Ogden said they do not know how much water the parks use.

Layton said the meter is tied to the surrounding city buildings and landscaping. Merrill Oveson, Layton's account manager, said once the pool is filled, water is filtered and recycled.

"So there will be very little water usage," Overson said.

North Ogden Assistant Park Facility Maintenance Supervisor Ken Young said the city doesn't charge itself for water, using the analogy of charging yourself to eat at your own home. He did concede that taxpayers pay for the water but could not give a dollar figure.Clearfield Community Services Director Eric Howes said the cost for water comes out of the public works department enterprise fund.

Even if the parks don't receive a water bill, other costs have Layton resident Chris Crowder, a former candidate for Utah House of Representatives, saying that cities should not be involved in entertainment services such as a water park.

"Those should be privately ran businesses," Crowder said, "and the government should provide just necessary services."

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Three water parks at a glance

Layton • Surf N' Swim, 465 N. Wasatch Drive. It earns $480,000 in tickets and concessions, and requires almost the same amount every year from the city's general fund.

Clearfield • Aquatic Center, 825 S. State St. The city annually pays $125,000 from the general fund and makes an $805,920 bond payment.

North Ogden • North Shore Aquatic Center, 245 E. 2550 North. The city gave the center about $4,000 in fiscal year 2012 and is paying about $200,000 a year for a bond.

Source: respective cities