The Jersey City Council passed an amended ordinance on second reading increasing pool fees for adults starting next May, along with a resolution subsidizing the cost of summer camp at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The first reading on the pool fees were approved at their April 26th meeting and was generally panned by residents.
The ordinance proposed $3 fees for adult residents (18 to 61), $2 for children (17 and under), and $1 for seniors. Adults and children would pay $1 extra on weekends and holidays, while senior fees would remain the same.
Non-resident adults and children would double, with the holiday and weekend fees raising to $8 and $6, respectively, while senior fees would remain stable at $2.
“This is a disgrace to Jersey City. We got three pools in the whole city. Two pools are in the Heights. One pool is falling down in Lafayette. Now we’re going to charge the citizens of Jersey City to go swimming?” LaVern Webb-Washington exclaimed.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. We’re going to charge everybody? All the children in Jersey City deserve to have some recreation that’s free in the summertime. So, we’re trying to extort money out of people? Extort it out of somebody else,” stated Jeanne Daly, who also called the proposal “an embarrassment to the city.”
Gary Murphy said the changes are “a terrible idea,” while Erica Walker, an aide to Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore said charging children sent a terrible message to the Black community, especially children.
Bernard Gardner asserted that the fee hikes “puts kids out on the streets with nothing to do” and would lead to an uptick in crime among youth.
After public comment on the ordinance, Council President Joyce Watterman called Jersey City Department of Recreation and Youth Development Director Lucinda McLaughlin to explain the rationale, even though she had done so at the April 24th caucus.
“It breaks my heart as well. I want to make sure we keep maintaining facilities. We were notified by the state Department of Environmental Protection that we were not doing the right thing closing two pools. We have a lot of financial costs at these pools,” McLaughlin said.
She noted staff and maintenance are pricy and that they either had to have fees charged to out of town residents or keep the pools free for everyone due to receiving Green Acres funding.
“I am trying to do my due diligence with a fiscal responsibility. Costs are going up across the board everywhere. We no longer have the ability to restrict them to out-of-towners.”
The indoor pool at Pershing Field already charges an admission fee, she noted.
McLaughlin also that aquatics are “exceptionally important” in an urban environment, though there needs to be a compromise with an ice rink that’s falling apart and roofs of rec buildings in major disrepair.
Nevertheless, Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano said the concept was wrong and that the money should be found elsewhere.
“I understand the argument on the surface. It’s just clearly not thought out. What do you tell a child who has four or five siblings and a mother living paycheck to paycheck?” Gilmore asked.
McLaughlin said it was her responsibility to fund the department’s costs and sometimes that calls for tough decisions.
“She told us last year about the situation. I just want this on the record. Sometimes we’re just trying to figure out how to get funding from other places. We hear the public. But don’t beat up the director,” Watterman stated.
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh then asked if it would be a significant amendment to remove fees for children from the ordinance.
“That would not be substantial,” Corporation Counsel Peter Baker replied.
“I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. You would not be imposing a burden,” McLaughlin declared.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey if it was correct in saying that the Health and Human Services Department would be able to cover the pool fees this year, to which McLaughlin said they have the $1,680,000 in wages covered.
Shortly thereafter, Saleh made a motion to remove the child fees.
“This is the children. But the adults still have to pay. We have to be clear on that. Children will not pay. Adults pay,” said Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera.
The amendment was introduced and passed unanimously (9-0) and upon request, City Clerk Sean Gallagher confirmed the fees for adults wouldn’t go into effect until May 2024.
“Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. Knowing this is going into effect in 2024 helps. There should be a discussion with our departments of cross grants,” Prinz-Arey said.
Boggiano argued that seniors shouldn’t be paying either, though no such amendment was proposed.
“I understand the concerns of the residents and the director. We do have financial realities we have to face. I am glad we were able to remove children. This won’t take effect ’til next year,” Saleh stated.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon said he was still not in favor of the measure and ultimately voted no, which he elaborated on in a statement this afternoon.
“While the amendment that was passed alongside the bill improved it by removing children under the age of 18 from having to pay the fee, it would still charge adults and seniors for a public good in order to address a budget shortfall,” he said.
“I’ve said this before – we cannot use Jersey City’s working families as a crutch to balance our budget. The city government is responsible for that task, not families who want a place to stay cool this summer. I will work with my colleagues to find different sources of revenue and remove this fee before a single resident is charged for it. ”
Gilmore said that while he was firmly against the initial ordinance, he felt “a little bit at ease” with fees for children being removed.
Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise noted the issues with paying staff to avoid shortages.
“I am happy we were able to exclude children. With the rising cost of maintenance… and staffing the pools, it is needed,” she said.
“You’re in a tough spot. It’s a big department. You’re not in that position to be liked. You’re in that position to be effective. I have been actively involved in recreation. I know the want of these children and how families … rely on recreation from our city. Free is important,” Rivera added.
Watterman said the council spoke about this numerous times last year and that the cost of living is going up across the country.
“We’re trying to find grants. We know the importance of recreation to a family. We do not want to increase. But if we don’t tighten our belt, we will lose certain programs,” she said before voting yes.
The ordinance passed 8-1, with Solomon voting no.
Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea, who came out hard against the ordinance after it was introduced, reiterated his stance that this is a bad idea the council should’ve voted down.
“The City Council decision last night to only impose fees on adults at the free city pools is an ill thought out compromise The ordinance to impose a pool tax should have just been DEFEATED,” he said in a statement.
“A pool tax is still a pool tax and make no mistake, this opens the door to expanding it to youth of a certain age next summer since the revenue derived will be minimal at best.
The rec department may wind up hiring more staff to supervise the children who now may be dropped off and picked up by parents who cannot afford to go. Less adults equals more of a need for adult supervision at the pools. Did they even bother to figure out what revenue will be generated or was it more of a save face move?”
He also said a concession stand would likely generate more revenue and credited Solomon for recognizing “that splitting the baby did not make this any less a bad piece of legislation.”
A resolution sponsored by Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley that would allow a local business to give $25,000 annually for 20 years to offset summer camp fees for underprivileged families.
She said she put the measure forward after receiving a number of calls from constituents and said the gift would cover at least 150 kids.
“That is a way for us to subsidize these new fees. We do need to work on the rec budget for next year. I’m asking my fellow council people to vote yes on (the resolution) 10.8.”
Several of her colleagues thanked her for the creative solution before it was approved unanimously (9-0).
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2).
Jersey City needs a recreation center for everyone to have something to do that is positive. To keep people off the street away from trouble. And to keep everyone active with sport, swimming, volleyball, tennis, track,flag-football and different activities like chess, cards, Ginga, corn hole and board game etc. For youth, senior and adults.so families can be a families and feel a bit safe.
Jersey City do not have fun activities.