Free entry to outdoor pools

By Jackson Russell

Mitchell Shire Council made a splash at Monday night’s council meeting, voting to open the gates to all outdoor pools this summer and provide free entry.

Councillors voted to approve free casual entry to council outdoor pools at Seymour, Broadford and Tallarook for both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 summer seasons.

Council is hoping the free pool entry will help improve the health and wellbeing of the community by removing the financial barrier to participation.

While a review of the scheme will take place at the end of the second season, the officers’ report acknowledges it could be difficult to re-introduce fees once the community had become used to free entry.

The three pools received at total of 16,099 attendances in the 2017-18 season with a cost of $13.97 per visit to council.

Council officers estimate if there’s a 75 per cent increase in visitation with free entry, the net impact based on the 2017-18 season would be an increase of around $24,000. However, the cost to council per visit would reduce by 37 per cent to $8.83.

With an increase in visitation of 50 per cent, the initiative would cost council an additional $30,000 or $10.24 per visit.

South ward councillor Rob Eldridge said free entry to outdoor pools was a great initiative.

“It has proactive health benefits for the community and has flow-on effects for learning to swim and reducing drownings,” he said.

Fellow south ward councillor David Lowe voted against the move along with Cr Bob Cornish.

“Things that are free are often seen as less valued,” Cr Lowe said.

“That $24,000 to $30,000 is on top of the $250,000 we already pay. We talk about success a lot but this recommendation doesn’t define what success is.”

Central ward councillor David Atkinson said increased cost was a ‘drop in the pool’ compared to other costs council bares.

“If the pools are free, they’ll be used to their potential. Financially-disadvantaged children may not have had access to the pools before but they will now,” he said.