An issue that could bring considerable expense to some Community Development Districts has arisen in The Villages. It has some residents and local government officials applauding, while others are united in balking.
The controversy centers on whether Villages residents should be on the hook for chairlifts at Villages swimming pools.
The Amenity Authority Committee already has voted to spend $80,000 on eight chairlifts at pools north of County Road 466. But the bigger conundrum exists south of CR 466, where the majority of the community’s 89 pools are located.
In fact, the Project Wide Advisory Committee, which includes representation from CDDs 5 through 11, is faced with deciding if $340,000 is too much to spend on the specialized chairs that help with those with disabilities get in and out of pools.
Currently, there are 67 swimming pools under the purview of PWAC, 34 of which do not have chairlifts. New pools being constructed have been getting chairlifts, per a change in the code as of 2010. These 34 pools without chairlifts were grandfathered in, as they were constructed prior to 2010.
In the past several months, PWAC has been adding chairlifts upon request, including those at pools at Largo and Hemingway. The chairs cost about $10,000 each and come with an annual maintenance cost in the neighborhood of $500 per chair. And so far, Recreation Director John Rohan has said, the aquatic chairlifts receive “very limited usage.”
At this past Thursday’s Community Development District 7 meeting, supervisors rejected the idea of spending so much money on chairlifts. Supervisor Jerry Vicenti, CDD 7’s PWAC representative, sought guidance from his fellow supervisors but also offered his own thoughts.
“$340,000 is a hell of a lot of money. Especially when you add another $15,000 a year for maintenance,” he said.
“We are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said CDD 7 Supervisor Mark Gallo, who pointed out that he has a close family member with disabilities and thinks some of the money could be spent at pools where no such need exists.
Chairman Ron McMahon took a more realistic approach and reminded his colleagues that CDD 7 is only one vote on the PWAC board, which will consider the issue again in March.
“If it passes 6-1, we are still going to get chairlifts, whether we want them or not,” he said.
It’s a topic PWAC has talked about before. At its January meeting, board members Chuck Wildzunas and Peter Moeller both described residents who need an aquatic lift and the importance of access to the pools for those individuals. CDD 6 Supervisor Tom Griffith, a former accountant, noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act benefits “a limited number” of people. But he said the access means the world to those people.
“Consider more than the numbers,” Griffith urged his PWAC members.
Not surprisingly, the hot-button chairlift issue has spawned many Letters to the Editor to Villages-News.com. Some residents, like Sandra Fuller, of the Village of Glenbrook, and Veronica Goldman, of the Village of Santo Domingo, were adamant about the need for chairlifts. And Village of Hemingway resident Sandra Thompson went so far as to call the new chairlift at her neighborhood pool a “gift from heaven.”
But Thomas Mcainey, of the Village of St. James, called installing chairlifts at all Villages pools “unnecessary at best, and a fumbling act of political correctness at its worst.” He suggested that the Villages Recreation Department should hand-select a small number of pools, geographically spaced apart, to offer these lifts to the “small handful of residents” who needed them.
“Purchasing chairs for every pool, when so few require them is a knee-jerk, financially irresponsible reaction to satisfy a few who need them,” he wrote, saying the majority of residents who wouldn’t use the chairs shouldn’t incur “wasteful costs.”
As we said earlier, this is a huge issue in The Villages right now. It’s not one that we will take a stand on, because frankly, we believe it’s the kind of thing that should be left up to local government leaders to decide. They were elected for a reason and we sincerely hope they will do their homework on this issue and listen to those they represent before making a decision.
That said, we encourage everyone living south of CR 466 with an opinion on this issue to make your local government representative aware of your thoughts. They deserve the chance to hear from you. And letting them know how you feel about the chairlifts is really as simple as dropping them an email at the addresses listed below, so please let your voice be heard on this issue.
Emails can be sent to:
- District 5: Chuck Wildzunas (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- District 6: Peter Moeller (email@example.com);
- District 7: Jerry Vicenti (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- District 8: Dennis Hayes (email@example.com);
- District 9: Steve Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- District 10: Don Wiley (email@example.com); and
- District 11: Patty Hoxie (firstname.lastname@example.org)