Gunnedah councillors have slashed the lane hire fees for the swim club after a lengthy debate at their meeting on Wednesday.
The matter of a proposed $2.50 per lane per hour at the Gunnedah swimming pool loomed large after Swimming Gunnedah's president Justin Hobson argued at the May meeting that the fees would be a "huge financial burden" for the club.
Mr Hobson said the council had not enforced hire charges before May this year and was hopeful this would continue to be the case in the new financial year.
The councillors moved into a committee as whole meeting so they could have a frank and honest discussion about the issue and Cr Murray O'Keefe moved that not-for-profit groups receive a discount of $1.50 per lane per hour for the 2019/2020 financial year.
They agreed that while they understood the club had suffered financially from the pool's closure for two seasons, the council still had a responsibility to ensure it was in a strong financial position for the future of the community.
"There's a misconception that lane fees exist to recoup operating the costs of running the pool," Cr O'Keefe said.
"They exist to acknowledge the administrative burden and extra level of service to deliver a specific lane, locked out for a specific purpose. And they really are a nominal fee, and they should be."
Cr Rob Hooke said he had "agonised" over the issue but councillors must acknowledge that the pool operating costs were "horrendous".
"In one sense, we find it very hard to justify an actual reduction in lane hire fees, however, I do find that there is a case that we do reduce it," he said.
"I don't believe we should extinguish lane fees at all ... but the swimming club has been caught out.
"I think it's a head situation versus a heart situation ... We can probably afford on this one-off basis for this financial year to make a reduction and give the swimming club an opportunity to fundraise."
There's a misconception that lane fees exist to recoup operating the costs of running the pool.Cr Murray O'Keefe
Cr Gae Swain said she had "concerns" that a reduction would be "going against recommendations quite severely" and there had never been as many eyes on them as they were now.
"The financial accountability we have for our community has never been as strict as it is at the moment... [It's important] that we're not mishandling our community's money," she said.
"Remember it's not our money, it's our community's money ... We've got a responsibility to do what's right.
"I'm afraid we're letting our heart rule over our head and I've got a real concern we might go through this in another 12 months time."
The fee reduction was approved for the next year only, which Cr Hooke said "was a compromise we had to reach".
Mr Hobson was present at the meeting and said while "I do understand where council is coming from", he was "disappointed" the club would have to pay fees.
"It's not what we were hoping for but I'm definitely grateful to council for doing what they did. It will definitely assist us in our recovery from having the pool closed for two seasons," he said.
"It gives us some breathing space."
Mr Hobson said he would have preferred that a not-for-profit fee to "be instated there permanently the same way they do for the town hall".
"I can see other ways of trying to recoup money into the pool rather than imposing more cost on the people already using it," he said.
"The main thing for me is, yes, they are trying to recoup money and all the rest of it, but I'd rather help them by expanding the swimming club
"If 10 families joins the club and they buy season tickets, $6600 goes into the council's coffers straight away rather than having fees that may deter people from joining the swim club."
I can see other ways of trying to recoup money into the pool rather than imposing more cost on the people already using it.Justin Hobson, Swimming Gunnedah president
Mr Hobson said the council should also try to "encourage more people to go through the gate".
The club has already received a bill for May for the current rate of $2.20 per lane per hour and Mr Hobson hopes council will consider applying the now-approved reduction to the last two months of the financial year.
"I've got to have that discussion with council," he said.
Mr Hobson said he was thankful to Cr Colleen Fuller for her verbal support that she would get behind the club's fundraisers to help them adjust to the fees.
"Going forward, we may have to raise our fees in the short-term, but we'll also increase our fundraising efforts for the club to try and reduce the impact on members, and obviously, come next year, we'll have to do more because we'll be charged the full rate," Mr Hobson said.