The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, threatened with closure, is getting a lifeline from the Flagler County administration.
The county will contribute $25,000 per year to help keep the facility operating, county commissioners decided in a Monday, Dec. 7 Flagler County Commission workshop.
The facility, an old ITT property which the Flagler County School Board acquired in 1995, has been the subject of a grassroots effort by its users to save it after the board proposed closing it. It has a gym, pool and tennis courts popular with local seniors, but it loses money annually, and the School Board can't use most of its state funding to pay for it because it's not a K-12 educational facility, Flagler Technical Institute Director Kevin McCarthy told county commissioners at the workshop.
"We don’t have any tax dollars we can use," he said. But, he said, "There’s a benefit to all of our Flagler County residents to provide senior services. It is a value added benefit to the citizens of Flagler County, and especially to our seniors."
"We want to do whatever we can, because it’s such a dedicated group of people out there."
— George Hanns, Flagler County commissioner
County administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners that School District Superintendent Jacob Oliva had approached the county about the possibility of partnering to keep the facility open, much like the county and the school district had on the Carver Gym — a facility once threatened with closure that is now thriving.
"It's always helpful when you can partner together," Coffey said. "This is one way we could help on an annual basis, an it's through our social services programs."
Commissioner Barbara Revels asked if there were any other governmental entities that would be contributing funding.
Coffey said he hadn't heard of any. The city of Palm Coast runs a competing pool a few blocks away, which is a disincentive for the city to contribute financially to the Belle Terre pool, he noted.
"But for us ... this is a way for us to do some active senior recreation that we don't do," Coffey said. "So, we weren't really going to worry about or try to gauge really how they're going to spend the dollars, as much as we were just going to require them to provide senior programming, allow the senior access." One of the School Board's proposals had been closing the facility to non-school use, a move that could have made it eligible for state education funding because it would then be classified as an educational facility, not community pool.
Commissioner George Hanns asked if the $25,000 would "make a big difference," and Coffey said it would close the gap to let the facility stay open.
Commissioner Charlie Ericksen asked if memberships alone could create enough revenue to keep it open, and McCarthy said it would require a very large membership, which the facility hasn't been able to attract.
"Is it going be something where the place would always have to be stuffed to break even?" Ericksen asked.
Coffey said the $25,000 was a stopgap, but, "If, for example, they cover all the operating (costs) with the membership, they might be able to take $25,000 and apply it for some kind of capital project or maintenance or upkeep that they otherwise would have to defer. I don't think that's the end of the world. I think our contribution is showing we're a partner with them in this process."
Doug Courtney, head of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee — a group of club members fighting to keep the facility open — said his group has raised 235-250 annual memberships within the past five weeks, and is aiming for a total of 400 by Jan 30. It has also raised about $50,000, he said.
The County Commission's decision on the $25,000 subsidy isn't final; it has to go back before the School Board for consideration before a final vote will be taken at the County Commission. But the county board reached a consensus at the workshop to provide the money.
"We want to do whatever we can, because it’s such a dedicated group of people out there," Hanns said.