Fairfax Pool

People swim on a hot summer day in 2016 at Eau Claire's Fairfax Park Pool.

Seeing hourly pay for public pool lifeguards and other seasonal recreation employees fall behind what some fast food restaurants are offering has prompted the city to consider raising wages to make itself more competitive to people searching for summer jobs.

But to raise pay for those positions under a tight proposed 2020 budget, Eau Claire officials would raise user fees at Fairfax Park Pool, Hobbs Ice Center and for group rentals of park facilities.

“If we want to increase those wage rates, we have to generate additional revenue or cut expenditures elsewhere,” finance director Jay Winzenz said.

During Tuesday evening’s budget work session, the City Council looked over a draft of the wage and fee increases they will consider at a future meeting.

“For most of the seasonal recreation employees, their wages would be raised $1.25 an hour,” Winzenz said.

For example, the $8.75 starting hourly pay for a lifeguard at the city pool would be upped to $10.

Winzenz estimates the total impact of raising the wages to be $63,000 — paid through upping fees for people who use the facilities where seasonal parks and recreation employees work.

Under the proposed fee increase, the $4.50 daily admission to Fairfax Park Pool would rise by 25 cents next year. Season passes for the pool would also rise. For example, the $135 pass for a family of four would go up by $8.

Hourly rates charged to groups that rent rinks at Hobbs Ice Center would go up between $7 to $13 an hour. Renting picnic pavilions and athletic fields in city parks would also cost more under the proposal.

Winzenz and City Manager Dale Peters asked council members if the proposal is something they would want to consider as they deliberate on the 2020 budget that will be approved next month.

Councilwoman Kate Beaton said she is concerned about increasing park pavilion rental fees as she wants public facilities to remain affordable to everyone.

“I’m hesitant, but I feel our employees need an increase, too,” Beaton said, adding that she’d consider the raise proposal.

Councilwoman Emily Anderson said she’d also consider the proposal, but wants the city to better promote its scholarship program for youth who can’t afford the full price of recreation programs.

Councilman Jeremy Gragert said he feels wages need to go up, but is concerned that some fees were going up too much. Gragert asked Winzenz for more information on prior years’ fee increases to help with his decision-making process.

Council President Terry Weld asked if Eau Claire would remain competitive with surrounding communities if it raised its recreational facilities fees.

Community services director Jeff Pippenger said park pavilion rental prices will still be low and doubts Eau Claire residents would start moving their gatherings to other communities under the proposed increases. And while he’s confident that Hobbs Ice Arena wouldn’t lose business in winter because that’s when all rinks are very busy, Pippenger said summer hockey leagues may go to Chippewa Falls for cheaper ice time.

The city has been upping its parks and recreation fees about every three years with the latest increases approved in 2018.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann noted a 2020 increase would break that cycle, noting that he’s also worried about keeping park amenities affordable.

“This is coming a year sooner than what we might see in next year’s increase,” he said.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter