No free swimming: Murray Bridge council rejects pool proposal

Ratepayers should not have to subsidise swimmers from outside the district, councillors have ruled.

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A plan to offer free entry to Murray Bridge Swimming Centre has been rejected by the city’s council.

Councillor Karen Eckermann had suggested removing entry fees – currently $7 per adult and $5 per child – could make it easier for locals to stay healthy.

Opening up the pool would encourage good health, give people a safer alternative to river swimming, and benefit the reputation of both Murray Bridge and its council, she said.

“This would send a strong message that we are committed to ... health and fitness in our community,” she said at a meeting on Monday night.

But most councillors argued that ratepayers should not have to further subsidise the swimming pool and water playground, especially when many of its users came from outside the district.

The facility already ran at a $300,000 loss each year, council staff reported.

Free entry would likely cost ratepayers about $200,000 more.

Cr Airlie Keen said a line needed to be drawn somewhere.

“Pools are notoriously expensive to maintain – anyone who’s got a home pool would vouch for that,” she said.

“I think most people in the community would be prepared to pay a small fee.”

Cr Fred Toogood said there were better things the council could do with $200,000.

“We could say that we’re putting it towards new footpaths around the town,” he said.

“We’re spending half a million (on footpaths per year) and people are getting a lot of benefit.”

Social media suggests public support

When Murray Bridge News raised the issue on Facebook this week, a majority of commenters supported entry fees at the swimming pool.

Many said entry fees could be cheaper, but that ratepayers who never used the pool should not have to subsidise those who did.

“If people want to exercise and be healthy, (entry fees) won’t stop them,” one commenter said.

“It’s cheaper than a gym membership.”

Swimming pool fees have been contentious before

It was not the first time swimming pool entry fees had become the subject of debate at the council.

Back in 2017, when the centre’s water playground was under construction, the council planned to charge $1 a ride for turns on its “supaslide”.

But a public outcry forced councillors to change their minds.

Another set of upgrades, worth $2.8 million, was unveiled at the swimming centre on October 30.

The council hopes to undertake further stages of work over the coming years, to transform the site into a state-of-the-art aquatic facility.

Multiple indoor pools, a gym and a cafe were all envisioned in a 2016 master plan.

A consultant was even engaged to produce concept images of the development in 2019.

So far, those plans remain un-funded.

A concept image of future development at Murray Bridge Swimming Centre, looking from the present kiosk towards the neighbouring guide hall. Image: DWP Australia/Rural City of Murray Bridge.

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