Wednesday, February 19, 1997
Forest Park pool, wallets open again

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jon, Courtney, D'Andre and Anthony are going swimming this summer. Because the city of Forest Park serves people. Not profits.

Jon and his friends can be forgiven for rushing the seasons. With this spring-like weather - balmy breezes, sunshine - in the middle of winter, my thoughts are turning toward floating in a pool and broiling under a blazing August sun.

''In the summertime, you can have fun down there,'' says Jon. The eighth-grader idly bounces a basketball with one hand and points with the other toward the three outdoor swimming pools at Forest Park's Pool and Activity Center.

''They got good supervision,'' Courtney adds. ''Fall down and cut yourself,'' the seventh-grader says, ''and the lifeguards fix you right up.''

These kids will be able to get wet this summer because Forest Park voters opened their wallets.

After the residents of Hamilton County's third largest city voted to reduce their taxes, they had second thoughts. And a second chance. After a special election, they bumped those taxes back up. Yes, you read that right. They passed on a chance to cut their own taxes. Their sensible actions will give these four kids, and hundreds like them, a place to cool off during the long, hot summer.

For a time, it looked like the city's pools were going to spend the summer as they are now, bone dry and padlocked.

In November, a proposal to change the city's earnings tax credit - so more could pay less - passed by 63 votes. City leaders made $800,000 in budget cuts.

The ax fell on the pools. They cost $110,000 a year to run. Although about 200 people pay to swim in them every day during the summer, they lose money.

So, the pools were to be closed. Too bad for the kids - as well as the adults who swim laps and laze about on rafts.

A special election Feb. 4 reinstated the original tax credit - by 848 votes. On Monday night, Forest Park's city council voted 4 to 1 to restore the budget cuts and open the pools this summer.

Bombs away

When school is out and the pool is open, Jon plans to jump off the adult diving board. From up there, you can do a flip, a back flip or even a cannonball.

''The cannonball is the best,'' Jon says. ''That really splashes the other kids.''

Aiming at the basket, he shoots and scores from the foul line. Nothing but net.

Courtney, D'Andre, a fifth-grader, and Anthony, a sixth-grader, scramble for the ball. Time is called as they conduct a quick poll. By their calculations, Courtney announces, ''we live at the pool in the summer.'' It's just over the hill from their homes. ''We're here three days a week.''

They do more than swim.

''We play sharks and minnows, too,'' Courtney adds.

''It's a game,'' D'Andre explains.

''Like tag,'' finishes Anthony.

''The shark goes after the minnows,'' Jon says, ''and tries to tag them.''

Smart move

The grown-ups of Forest Park, the ones who vote, the ones who work in city hall and the ones who pay taxes, should be proud of themselves. They did not act like sharks and treat their young citizens like minnows in a bait bucket.

By providing the money to keep the pools open, they made sure Courtney's predictions did not come true.

''If they closed the pool, kids wouldn't know what to do,'' he says after grabbing a rebound. ''They'd get bored. Get into trouble. Start fights. Start stealing things.

''So, tell the mayor, 'Keep the pools open.' ''

Courtney's wish is the mayor's command.

Wayne Coates, Forest Park's mayor, voted with council's majority to open the pools this summer. He doesn't care if they don't make money.

''Pools are a public service,'' he says. ''You don't think of them in terms of a profit or a loss. Pools are what make a community. Not everybody can go to the Beach or Surf Cincinnati. They can't afford to have a pool built in their back yard. So, keeping them open is just something you have to do. It's like cleaning the streets when it snows.''

Shhhh. Don't even mention the white death. Think summertime. The pool's open. The water's cool. The sun's hot. Everybody's having a good time. Taxpayer money is going right back to the taxpayers - and their kids. Imagine that.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.