The Northern Lehigh Swimming pool at Victory Park in Slatington was scheduled to open Saturday but a borough employee is accused of stealing water from the community and the pool is so short of water the opening has been delayed indefinitely.
Steve Martinez, a borough employee had been turning on the water to fill the community pool for the season for 20 years. Martinez did not expect there was a problem until charges were filed against him at the insistence of Councilwoman Kris Burek.
Burek called the community control center and reported a theft of services on Tuesday afternoon. She said the Slatington Borough Council never authorized the use of borough water to fill the pool and wanted whoever was responsible to be arrested. When she was told it was Steve Martinez, Burek asked who had authorized it.
Burek contends that there is no documentation to support filling the Northern Lehigh Pool with water and nothing in the minutes states the borough agreed to supply water to the Northern Lehigh Swimming Association.
Burek said the pool is located in Washington Township, not the borough, which further clouds the issue as to why the borough is supplying the pool with water and chlorine. Prompted by a call from an irate resident, Burek contacted borough hall and asked if the pool association is being billed for the water.
When she was told they were not, she immediately called the control center.
"This is a theft of Slatington resources," said Burek. She said there is no financial benefit to Slatington to provide free water to the pool.
Police Chief Rachman told Burek there's no protocol in place where Martinez has to be notified by council before he can begin the fill. However, the result was an order from the police chief to shut the water off, leaving the pool gallons short. However, the pool is well within the border of the borough of Slatington.
Farrell Snyder, NL pool manager, said it would have been better for everyone if they continued to fill up the pool and settled the matter at a council meeting. He said Burek's actions were a bit hasty, and resulted in residual community problems and that having the pool short so much water causes more problems than just not being able to open on time.
The water is also below the skim line, so debris is settling on top of the water. Since there's no precedence, it's difficult to determine how that will affect the pool water quality when the issue is finally resolved.
Snyder also spent most of the morning fielding phone calls from residents asking when the pool would open. One mother was called to tell her she had to cancel plans for her child's birthday party on Saturday. Until the issue is resolved by council, Snyder said there is no way of knowing when the pool would open.
The NL Pool is a non-profit organization and depends on funds from council to stay open. Although there is a charge to swim at the pool, maintenance costs can be high. The pool used to receive $1,500 a year from the borough, but since Burek has been on the council, that amount has been reduced to $1,000.
Since 1963, the Slatington borough has been providing water and paid for the chlorine. According to Salvatore Somma, the NL pool director, this agreement was made on a 'gentleman's handshake," and continued throughout the years because the pool provides the community with a valued resource. In return, the association gave a piece of property to the Borough to erect a water tower.
The pool employs 22 young adults, provides free swimming lessons and also provides a real community service.
"If we had to pay for water, we'd be out of business," Somma said.
However, Burek contends that in 2009 the Northern Lehigh Swimming Association, a non-profit organization, had net assets of $193,000. They pay the pool manager $7,000 and should have the proceeds to pay for water and chlorine.
Burek claims said that the pool is in Washington Township, not in the borough of Slatington, and takes 267,000 gallons of unauthorized Slatington water. According, to Somma, the main pool is in the borough, but the 'baby pool,' is in Washington Township.
Somma said the community has always worked in tandem to provide services to the community. There has always been a reciprocation of services between the Northern Lehigh Swimming Association and the borough council, until now.
"It's unfortunate that the children will suffer," Somma said.
Snyder said that the pool is definitely in the borough because Slatington issues the health and restaurant permits for the concession stand.
"If," he said, "the pool is truly in Washington Township, the Pool association is entitled to a rebate.
The pool costs the borough less than $3,000 per year and Snyder said it gets a very high return on its money. If the borough does not continue to help fund the pool, Snyder said they will have no choice but to raise the entrance cost. Today, a family of six can buy a season pass for $200. Senior citizens, 65 or older, can buy a season pass for $60.
Although the pool is located in and maintained by the borough, anyone, no matter where they live, can use the pool as long as they pay the entrance fee.