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Public-private effort may save city pools this summer

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Community pools in Sacramento on the verge of closing this summer may get a reprieve – and nearly $1 million in operating funds – from a fundraising effort that kicks off Tuesday between the city and Save Mart Supermarkets.

The city of Sacramento operates 12 pools to serve more than 467,000 city residents, but since 2008 the number of pools kept open each summer has dwindled due to budget cuts.

By 2011, that number was reduced to six pools and five wading pools, with open hours limited to six days per week, four hours per day.

Through a new fundraising campaign called “Help Save Mart Save Our Pools,” Save Mart will match dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000 in the donations made by individuals, residents, and local business sponsors from mid-February through mid-April, according to a city staff report.

All of the funds raised will be used to open the same six pools in 2012 that were kept open in 2011, including: Clunie, Doyle, Johnston, McClatchey, Pannell Meadowview and Sim Park pools.

The closure of almost two-thirds of Sacramento pools last summer got the attention of national media – and Save Mart Supermarkets, which operates seven grocery stores in Sacramento.

“After seeing the story in the New York Times and the Sacramento Bee editorial last summer about Sacramento city pools being closed due to lack of funds, we were moved to do something to take action and help keep the pools open this summer,” said Alicia Rockwell, director of public affairs and communications for Save Mart Supermarkets, in an email Monday.

City Councilman Kevin McCarty said Monday that he is excited about the co-sponsorship opportunity, but he recognizes that it is only a stop-gap measure.

“This is what we’ve been talking about all along: public/private partnerships,” McCarty said, “but the reality is, this kind of just stops the (budget) bleeding.”

McCarty was an adamant proponent for keeping public pools open last year during a budget cycle that saw a $24 million shortfall.

In the end, the city rallied to keep six pools open during the 2011 season, but with reduced hours and staff.

Now, funding for keeping pools open has run out and, without additional funding, all of the city pools will be closed as of the end of the 2011/12 fiscal year, June 30.

“We want to engage and ignite the community to give to this effort and help us raise upwards of $1 million so that the city can open as many pools as possible,” Rockwell said in the email.

“We want to see all 12 pools and wading pools open this summer but even our effort won’t pay to open all of them,” Rockwell added.

According to the city staff report, it would take and additional $1.5 million to open all 12 pools for the summer.

Jim Combs, Department of Parks and Recreation director, said that although co-sponsorships are common for amenities such as arenas, the “Save Our Pools” collaboration between the city and Save Mart is unique.

“I know of no other city across the country where a corporate citizen has stepped up like this,” Combs said Monday. “This is a unique model and it is a good model for other corporate sponsors to follow, too.”

Combs said his department – in conjunction with the Neighborhood Services Department – has been working for the past year to find nonprofit partners to run the city’s community centers.

“I don’t see corporations volunteering for tree trimming or other core services,” Combs said, “but for the programs that benefit quality of life, like pools and libraries, these are good opportunities.”

Sponsors are hoping $1 million will be raised through the “Save Our Pools” effort – if not more.

“Maybe this can get bigger. We want to keep an open mind,” McCarty said. “If we fully embrace this and get excited about it, it could turn into more than expected.”

“This is an example of where business and government can partner for the greater good of the community,” City Manager John Shirey said Monday.

Shirey said the coming together of Save Mart and the city for this effort was “fortuitous,” and a welcome start to what he hopes will be a model for other fundraising efforts in the city.

“Occasionally there is a story in the paper about an individual or a family that needs help, and the next day some good Samaritan will step up – those are not uncommon stories,” Shirey said.

“When the distressed party is a local government, though, it is not an automatic reaction from people to ask how they can step up and help out,” Shirey said. “Maybe we are forming a new model here.”

The co-sponsorship agreement with the city includes a provision for Save Mart to have the right to renew the sponsorship in each of the next three years – opening the door to continued collaboration between Save Mart Supermarkets and the city – and potentially opening more pools in future years.

If more money is raised than expected, the staff report states, the funds will roll over to the 2013 summer pool season and apply to keeping the same pools open as in 2012.

Information about becoming a sponsor or making a donation to the “Save Our Pools” campaign will be available starting Tuesday in stores and online HERE.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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