Middletown Swim Club Could Close for 2012 Season
Ordinance introduced to authorize sale of the club called safeguard by Middletown officials.
The sale of the Middletown Swim and Tennis Club is not inevitable, but it will still not open under township management this summer.
Middletown officials introduced an ordinance at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting authorizing the sale of the township-owned club, though Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said the municipality is continuing to explore all options.
“Selling the property is our absolute last resort,” Mercantante told the audience. “We have lots of interest from people on the property. Some are interested in buying it. Some are interested in operating it. We are meeting with people every day. If we are able to save it, we will. But stopping this ordinance is not a good idea, because we don’t have to act on it. We can reject all bids (for the sale). It’s just better to pass the ordinance so if we have to go out to auction, we can.”
The process to put a public property up for auction is lengthy, he added, so the township needs to be prepared “just in case.”
Mayor Tony Fiore also reiterated that the introduced ordinance stipulates that any sale would be deed restricted, permitting only recreational use on the site. He called the restriction a win-win for the township as a whole.
Residents were still riled, though, and not comforted by the officials’ contention that the club’s sale is not yet inevitable.
Those who spoke during the public portion pushed to keep the club open this summer at least. Middletown resident Tracy Lewis said it made no sense for the township to continue to pay capital debt service on the club while not taking in membership fee revenue to offset it. The debt service is $265,000 a year. The club operated at a loss of $101,000 last year.
Lewis said that after obtaining financial records on the club, she and a group of people had devised a plan that she said would bring in an added $92,000 in receipts.
Her plan called for charging fees for swim and tennis instruction, renting the concession stand for a higher amount and increasing cabana fees by $200.
Mercantante said the plan was not feasible because when fees were hiked before, membership went down. He added that there is no way to predict the desired outcome of maintaining high enough membership numbers.
“We had this discussion last year and did modify costs of certain things, but fewer people signed up,” Mercantante said.
In addition, opening the club, under township reign, for the summer while saying there’s a chance it will be sold is creating a potentially false impression, he said.
“People say it is part of their lifestyle,” Mercantante explained. “(If we open) people have to have an expectation that it’s going to be here next year.” That cannot be guaranteed, he said.
Township Attorney Brian Nelson added that keeping the club open “one more year” would be like paying the minimum on a credit card and would only push the township further into debt.
Keeping the club open is tantamount to placing an unfair burden on taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the capital improvements, when most are not even members, Fiore said.
“You’re throwing out the baby with the bath water,” resident John Russoniello said. “With our business plan, (opening the club this year) viable, responsible and doable.”
Fiore countered that the residents’ plan is not “doable” because it does not take into account the cost of dire capital improvements that would have to be addressed should the club open.
“Without capital expenditures included it’s (your plan) not doable,” Fiore said. “I’m a financial guy. If I thought this was feasible, it would be done. It’s unfortunate. Our losses will be borne by everyone in the township, not just the members of the club.”