Council split over pool entry fees

Newcastle councillors shelved a decision on pool entry fees last night because they could not agree on whether to reduce the fees or scrap them altogether.

Labor councillors had wanted to throw open the turnstiles and make entry free at the city’s five inland pools.

Cr Andrea Rufo proposed a 25per cent reduction and a cheaper family pass, but his amendment never reached a vote. Cr Michael Osborne, sensing a six-six vote and a split council, halted the debate.

‘‘We have a split council,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s quite obvious that there are six councillors who support the [reduced entry] amendment, and six who support the [free entry] original motion.

‘‘This is a casting vote situation and we’re going to end up with a divided council.’’

The council then voted to defer the vote so they could be briefed by council staff on the financial impact, and conduct a workshop where they might find some common ground.

Labor councillors opposed the delay.

Earlier, Cr Nuatali Nelmes raised the decades-old argument about entry fees at pools compared with free cultural facilities like the museum and art gallery. In a 2010 sustainability review report, the council’s administration said user charges were likely to  reduce visitors at the gallery.

‘‘People pay twice for the pools,’’ Cr Nelmes said. ‘‘They pay through their rates or their rent and they pay to enter.’’

Cr Tim Crakanthorp said ‘‘affluent suburbs’’ had  access to free coastal pools, but others did  not.

Cr Lisa Tierney spoke against free entry and raised an internal memo that said the coastal pools cost significantly less for the council.

‘‘I do think that the council went a bit fee-increase-crazy,’’ Cr Tierney said.

She argued that a fee reduction was ‘‘fiscally responsible and socially responsible’’.

Cr Rufo proposed a new fee structure that would charge $12 pass for a family of four, and a reduction of 25per cent to other entry fees from the 2013-14 summer.

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