Most Baltimore City swimming pools were closed for the summer season on Aug. 8, at least four weeks too early for city residents looking for a fun way to beat the heat. But the mayor’s office announced Wednesday that generous unsolicited donations totaling $507,000 have managed to keep the larger outdoor facilities – Cherry Hill Splash Park, Clifton Park, Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park, Riverside and Roosevelt – open until the end of the season. An unnamed individual gave $300,000 and the T. Rowe Price Foundation donated $117,000. Druid Hill Park pool was kept open by a $90,000 donation from J.P. Grant, president of Grant Capital Management.

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said an additional $177,000 is needed to open walk-to pools through Sept. 4. The three city indoor facilities – Callow Hill, Cherry Hill and Chick Web – will also be open; these had not been slated for early closure.

City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, along with other council members and community leaders assembled for a press conference at the City Springs pool Aug. 11 to demand that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake keep all the pools open until Labor Day.

When the season started this year, city officials knew it would be a short one when the Department of Finance released the city’s preliminary budget, calling for cuts to the fire and police departments, street repair and resurfacing, as well as recreation centers and pools.

Young called for a special session of the City Council on Aug. 13 to present a resolution to demand that funds from the city’s stabilization fund be used to keep pools open. He said the fund “had enough cash to fill each city’s closed pools with $100 bills.”

According to Edward Gallagher, director of the Department of Finance, the stabilization fund currently has a balance of about $80 million and can only be used by a recommendation from the Board of Estimates. “The fund is a reserve of city government,” he said. “It’s only dealt with in the event of an extreme emergency or if there is a budget deficit that we are not able to close.”

In 1992, $40 million was used to help offset the school system’s budget crisis and $17 million was used last fiscal year to help offset declining state revenue and to pay for cleaning up record-breaking snowstorms in the region.

Councilman James Kraft said he met with Gallagher on Aug. 9 and was told that the finance department could not look for money to keep the pools open without the mayor’s permission. Kraft said he e-mailed the mayor asking for permission to look for additional funds and was met with pushback, which he attributed to a point of contention between the city council and the mayor’s office.

“I was told, ‘It’s your fault, you didn’t pass the budget that I wanted to pass’,” Kraft said, relating the mayor’s response.

Gallagher said he did not receive a request from the mayor to look for additional funds.

“Last year no pools stayed open until Labor Day, due to a $65 million budget deficit,” said Brennan, the spokesman for the mayor’s office. “They’ve known for a very long time, and it wasn’t until now, for whatever reason . During the budget hearings in May nobody said I am committed to finding funding to keep pools open until Labor Day. There were a number of commitments expressed by the Council, but there were no times when anybody expressly said we want the pools open until Labor Day.”

 

Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO