Alexandria group seeks tax hike to save Warwick, other city pools

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Taxes,Alexandria

Alexandria residents are used to crowded lanes and long wait times -- just not in their swimming pools.

Activists are pushing back against City Manager Rashad Young's plans to close one of the city's four pools, a move that would save an estimated $92,000 in operating costs that would help cover Alexandria's $31 million budget gap.

But lawmakers say that even if they wanted to save Warwick Pool, they couldn't fund it without a tax increase. Young has already proposed a 2.5-cent hike in next year's budget, but the Alexandria City Council would have to raise taxes by 4 cents to maintain the pools.

"It's not a surprise that we've gotten here," said Councilman Justin Wilson. "I would like for there to be a future of municipal aquatics, but we first have to adopt a vision. The question is, 'Are we willing to make a long-term commitment?' "

Alexandria officials closed three local pools over the last five years. That left the city's 144,000 residents with four pools in which to swim. But with Warwick's closing later this year, residents who once had a choice of seven pools said they fear long lines and overcrowded waters at the three remaining facilities.

Many of those residents have now banded together to form Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics to help raise money to save Warwick and to prevent any future closings of the remaining pools.

Group member Bill Rivers said he's confident the group can raise as much as $5 million but noted that members haven't hit full stride yet -- and won't -- until "the city shows it's committed" to funding aquatics.

"It's certainly a high bar to set, but I think it's for a good cause," Rivers said. "There's a lot of stuff percolating along. We're feeling good."

The group is expected to start a full-scale fundraising effort in May, assuming city lawmakers adopt a 4-cent tax increase, the maximum they can approve. An increase that large would cost the average homeowner about $314 more a year and would raise about $25 million for the renovation or replacement of many city pools.

"Having Warwick open is really essential for city residents," said Mark Malseed, vice president of the Warwick Village Citizens Association. "There is already overcrowding at many city pools and a waiting list of people who want swim lessons. Keeping the pool open will help keep the demand reasonable.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on its 2014 budget on May 6.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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