New information about the operations of facilities owned by the City of Truth or Consequences that affect the community’s quality of life has been disclosed at several recent public meetings. These developments suggest City Manager Bruce Swingle is bringing about more proactive management of these amenities.
The city’s golf course will increase membership fees, although this will not put a significant dent in the course’s six-figure annual public subsidy. The leak at the municipal swimming pool has finally been fixed after three years. The public library advisory board may be allowed to meet quarterly instead of 10 times a year.
In fiscal year 2020-2021, the public subsidized $269,000 in golf course expenses, Manager Swingle reminded the city commission at its regular meeting on Oct. 27. The course collected only $41,000 in revenue.
As part of the budgeting process for this fiscal year, Swingle asked department heads to recommend cuts and In the hope of increasing course revenue by imposing higher user fees, Community Services Director O. J. Hechler and Golf Course Manager Wes Owen studied other cities’ golf fees. They presented a new user and membership fee schedule at the Oct. 27 city commission meeting that incorporated increased charges of about 40 percent in some cases.
Hechler and Owen’s research was not presented to the public or the city commission, but Swingle informed the commissioners that the new fees were still lower than those charged by other cities.
The meeting packet, available online, contained the old and new fee schedule, which was not discussed during the meeting. Nor did Hechler, Owen or Swingle state how much revenue is expected from the increases or discuss the possible impact on the course’s patronage.
The city commission unanimously approved the increased fees with no discussion.
After the vote, City Commissioner Frances Luna observed: “Imagine if we had to shut down this facility and other services.” Her comment implied that raising user fees or shutting down the golf course are the only options for reducing the course’s public subsidy.
Downtown business owner Ingo Hoeppner, who is running for a seat on the city commission, was asked at a candidates forum held on the Oct. 19 at the Albert J. Lyon Event Center about the status of the municipal pool. Hoeppner, who serves on the T or C recreation advisory board, said the pool was finally fixed.
The Sun called Pool Manager Kyle Blacklock, who confirmed that the pool had been leaking about 10,000 gallons a week for the entire three years he has been manager, adding to the expense of operating this taxpayer-subsidized facility. The leaks were fixed around Oct. 15.
The problem centered on the metal gutter surrounding the upper edge of the pool, whose purpose is to siphon off floating leaves and other debris. The gutter’s caulking “was never done properly,” and the expansion joint in the bottom of the pool also needed re-caulking, Blacklock said. The cost to taxpayers for these repairs was about $40,000.
T or C’s city code stipulates that the five-member citizen advisory board of the public library shall meet 10 times a year. In the 11 months between June 2020 and April 2021 the board met only twice, according to minutes of its meetings.
Board members subsequently approached the city with a request to change their required meeting schedule. At its Oct. 27 meeting, the T or C city commission took the first step toward permitting the library’s oversight board to meet only quarterly. Without discussion, the commission voted unanimously to publish a legal ad that will notify the public of a proposed new ordinance that will institute this change.
A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at one of the next two city commission meetings. There will only be one commission meeting in November and December.
City Manager Swingle said fewer meeting times are needed since the library is a well-established institution, implying that he sees it as a smooth-running operation that requires little outside oversight.
More public input might be required to make the library of greater community service, but Swingle seems to be carefully choosing his battles for improving city facilities.