Prompted by public complaints that The Woodlands Township pool at the Rob Fleming Aquatic Center on Creekside Forest Drive was crowded with nonresident users, the board of directors voted 5-1 to raise pool fees.
Daily passes to township pools for nonresidents are now $12, and daily passes for nonresidents to the Rob Fleming Aquatic Center are $20 from Monday to Thursday, and $30 from Friday to Sunday, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Independence Day. Daily rates for residents at the aquatic center from Friday to Sunday are also raised to $15.
Board of directors Chairman Gordy Bunch said at the Aug. 5 special meeting that five times as many nonresidents use the pool as residents on weekdays, and the number reaches eight times as many on weekends and holidays.
“There is a majority nonresidents in every pool,” Bunch said of the township’s 14 pools.
Bunch said the township cannot ban nonresidents from the pools, but it can raise the price of passes.
Nonresidents are charged a higher rate because they do not support township facilities through property taxes, board members said during a discussion at the meeting.
According to information attached to the meeting agenda, the township’s aquatic division—which includes the Rob Fleming Aquatic Center—has a $2.53 million operations budget, and revenues for the division are estimated at $1.26 million. The revenue gained or lost from pool fee changes are not known, according to the supplementary information.
Vice Chairman John McMullan said he was concerned the township could be sued for charging higher rates for nonresident use. Bunch disagreed.
“I have zero issues with our proposal to double the rate and triple the rates … as outlined,” Bunch said.
McMullan said although he supported raising the rates, he felt the gap between resident and proposed nonresident fees was too great.
“I think we’re going to be sued for discrimination,” McMullan said.
McMullan said the board should revisit the topic during budget meetings the week of Aug. 12.
“We should reprice all the pools and change our approach for how we do this and not do something of dubious legality because of some Facebook comments,” McMullan said.
Bunch said he believes the township is following the law by increasing fees at peak times for nonresidents.
Township attorney Robin Cross said her recommendation has been nonresident fees can be up to twice that charged to residents at public facilities. Board members decided at the Aug. 5 meeting to raise resident daily passes to the Rob Fleming Aquatic Center to $15 so that the nonresident rate increase to $30 would be only twice the resident cost.
The changes took effect immediately and will provide some data for the financial effects of the change, Bunch said.
McMullan voted against the proposal because he said he was not completely certain that the fees were within an acceptable legal range.