Atlantic City attorneys are reviewing an agreement that could help save a local swim team by making it an official municipal recreation program, city officials said Thursday.
The suggested memorandum of understanding would formalize a long-standing policy arrangement between the Atlantic City Aquatic Club and city Department of Recreation. The club has used of the eight-lane pool at the public high school for six four-hour sessions per week in exchange for paying a share of upkeep costs and discounting its registration fees for resident swimmers.
In addition to maintaining those practices, the official agreement would lay out the terms for adding competitive feeder programs. The team would supply instructors for those satellites at other city pools at the Uptown and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. complexes — both school buildings, said Wilbur Banks, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department, which includes the recreation division.
“It’s just a suggestion trying to come to a happy medium,” Banks said.
The point also is to involve more resort children in competitive swimming — particularly those who now lack transportation to the club’s base at the high school a mile out on the Route 40 causeway.
That expansion already had been under discussion when the Atlantic City School District sought an $85,000 annual use fee for the Aquatic Club after realizing no formal contract existed with the city Recreation Department, Banks said.
“We had no agreement, so that’s what prompted them to do what they needed to do,” Banks said Thursday. “Apparently, anyone that didn’t have an agreement with the Recreation Department should be going through the Board of Education (directly) to use their facilities. … I know now, that in the future, such as for our summer program, we’d need to have an official understanding with any group. It’s understandable.”
The higher new rate is more than 10 times what the club has paid during the past 17 years: about $7,000 annually to cover utilities and upkeep. In return, the club charged residents about $200 yearly to swim versus the $1,200 average payment for nonresidents.
Team representatives have said the organization cannot afford the new rate.
School district officials have said their estimates are based on what other facilities charge.
But use fees seem to vary widely. The Ocean City Aquatic and Fitness Center requires that all families of swimmers on its Ocean City C-Serpents Swim Club join the center. That generates about $30,000 annually for the center and buys the swimmer’s entire family rights to use the pool, weight room and other fitness facilities there, said coach Graham Parker, who described the Atlantic City School District’s rate as “ridiculous”.
Atlantic City Superintendent Donna Haye said Wednesday the district’s $315-per-session rate — which combines $125 custodial and $190 rental fees — is set by a policy that applies to any nonprofit seeking to use one of its aquatic facilities. She also wasn’t sure why that was different in the past.
“I have no idea what has happened in the last three or four months,” said former Superintendent Fred Nickles, who retired June 30. “But at one time there was a partnership between the rec department and the school board. And I don’t know quite what’s going on right now.”
Deputy City Solicitor Irving Jacoby confirmed Thursday that his office is reviewing the memorandum of understanding suggested by Banks and recreation Superintendent Shermaine Gunther-Gary.
Currently, 62 of 152 active ACAC swimmers live in Atlantic City. The agreement would require the team to have a minimum 51 percent resident participation rate on the team, plus add Board of Director slots for city residents — although four of six board members already live in the resort. Financial reports and documents backing up residency of active team members would be part of the deal, too, Banks said.
Once their proposal is deemed legally sound, it would have to be supported by City Council. Jacoby could not confirm whether that would happen in time for the governing body’s next meeting Oct. 24.
“Some of the things the rec department is requesting, we’re more than amicable to do,” said Joe Haney, who heads the team’s Board of Directors. “Hopefully, (City Council) will see the value of what they’re trying to do.”
The addition of satellite feeder programs already was being discussed when the school and swim team started sparring over future pool use fees, said Haney, a city resident and firefighter
“Whether it’s a closed issue right now, I don’t know,” Banks said. “And I don’t know what more I can do. If the board is willing to start a program, I’m all for it. My bottom line is the kids of the city. Not favoring one way or the other, I just need our kids to have a venue where they can swim and be competitive.”
Haye was unreachable late Thursday. Assistant Superintendent Barry Caldwell did not return calls to his office or cell phone. Board members also did not return calls.
“We’re committed until the middle of November, as far as what’s paid for,” Haney said. “And after that, we have a huge decision to make. Hopefully things will be able to be resolved by then.”
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