The Fort Totten Pool, the only free public pool in Northeast Queens, may not open this summer if the City Council does not restore funding before passing the final budget.
It is one of four pools that were not included in the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal, according to Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson. The four pools together cost $1.5 million to operate for the season. The other three are: Wagner Pool in Manhattan, Faber Pool in Staten Island and Howard Pool in Brooklyn.
The City Council will negotiate with the administration to restore the money before the final budget must be passed by the end of June, before the pools are scheduled to open.
The mayor left out funding for the pools for each of the past four years, to great public outcry, but the City Council restored the funding and the pools remained open.
According to Abramson, the Parks Department considered several factors, including attendance figures, proximity to other pools, access to public transit and the location of the pools relative to residential communities, in deciding which ones to close.
However, residents and elected officials say they are sick of the annual budget dance and feel like the city is trying to balance its books by depriving Northeast Queens of city services.
“The pool was one of the few public services that the people of the 19th District actively received despite paying very high taxes,” Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), said.
Ryan pointed out that the area is composed mostly of single-family homes, trails the rest of the city in public transit options and pays higher property taxes.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) noted the city also has threatened to cut FDNY Engine 306 on Bell Boulevard and the Beacon after-school program at MS 158.
“We just want our fair share, and closing our pool is not fair,” Braunstein said. “The pool gets use. It’s a nice pool.”
Braunstein said that every time he’s been there, the pool was crowded, sometimes to the point where people had to wait outside for others to leave.
The pool is located within Fort Totten, a preserved Civil War fortress whose historical buildings house the Bayside Historical Society, FDNY EMS training and the Queens Parks Department’s headquarters.
“You have to walk to the pool. You can’t drive. It’s nice, it’s part of the excercise,” said Paul DiBenedetto, president of the Bayside Historical Society.
Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said the pool is “very important to the community.” He said the “senior splash” hours, programs for children with free snacks and lunches, and times for the general public are all very popular.
The only local alternatives are private pools, which cost about $2,000 for the season, Schreiber said.
“All of a sudden to deprive the children and the seniors of the pool, that’s not right.” Schreiber said. “The citizens of New York should not be held hostage when the mayor does his budget.
“They always seem to do the budget dance, and they always seem to go after things that affect middle-class families,” Schreiber continued. “I don’t see them cutting a lot of programs benefiting the wealthy.”
According to Geoffrey Croft, founder of New York City Park Advocates, the city ranks “dead last” among major municipalities in providing public swimming pools and the people using the pools are mostly New Yorkers in need.
Croft noted that the city paid for the construction of a pool in Flushing Meadows Corona Park several years ago, which it then rented out to private groups for the majority of the time.
“Even when they’re building new pools, the city refuses to take care of them,” Croft said.