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Rumor mill gets it wrong on county swimming pool plans

The rumors came via email, word of mouth and through the internet of pools going private

Contrary to rumblings in the community, Maui County itself is not moving to privatize its swimming pools or charge for their use, a county spokesman said Thursday.

“There is no move to privatize or charge people for pools. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I’m not sure how else I can say it,” county spokesman Rod Antone said in an email.

Over the last month or so, some residents have expressed concern over word that the county would charge for its pools and that the Kihei Aquatic Center would be privatized and/or turned into a water park. The rumors came via email, word of mouth and through the internet. The concerns were floating about when the county held a series of interactive open house meetings in September to address parks and recreation facility needs as well as aquatics facilities. The information gathered at those events will be used by parks staff and a consultant team for future planning.

Antone has spoken with Kihei Community Association officials, and they said they understand that the county is undertaking a fact-finding process. The association could not immediately be reached for comment.

On its website, the Kihei Community Association reported there were no decisions at the Kihei meeting on Sept. 14 “if an admission charge would be proposed, much less any specific amount. And no, no hint on any proposed ‘water park.'”

But a month later, talk continued.

In a letter to the editor published Wednesday in The Maui News, Kihei resident Jerry Piller wrote that he has heard “about a cockamamie scheme to privatize our local community center swimming pools.”

“Does anyone seriously think that us locals (meaning all Maui residents) would be willing to pay $3-9 a day to use the pool?” he added.

He said that some consultants from Colorado were overheard advancing the proposition to county officials who were showing them around.

On Thursday, Piller said that he overheard talk of the privatization while listening to county workers at the Kihei pool.

Another Kihei resident, Pat Hoskin, said she wants to be sure the pools continue swimming programs for seniors without charge, if at all possible.

Hoskin said she has a pool at her complex residence and is not afraid of the ocean. So, she has other options for swimming and exercising. But she said that not all other seniors have those options, and Hoskin said she likes taking the exercise classes.

Hoskin said she attended the Kihei parks meeting last month, and there was no talk of charging fees. But she said the possibility that the county could charge for pool use remains a concern for her and other members of the community.

Some residents said they received their information from pool lifeguards.

Antone said lifeguards are residents who can attend the community meetings to have input on county pool planning.

“We gave them many options, learn to swim classes, water aerobics and, yes, we asked them if they want water features like water slides,” Antone said. “If enough people out there want water slides then the consultants go back and find out what that would cost.”

Then the parks department would present that option to the public. If it draws support from residents, then the county would need to determine if such a feature could be covered in the county’s annual budget, “or if we need to start charging an admission fee to the pools,” Antone said in an email.

If the administration puts such an item (such as water slides, for example) in its proposed annual budget, then the Maui County Council would consider it in its annual review of county spending and income.

“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and in no way represents what we’re hearing out there, that somehow the county is going to arbitrarily start charging fees and building water slides tomorrow,” Antone said. “People need to stop gossiping and listen to the information being given at our meetings.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.