Agreement to underwrite physio pool

The Dunedin City Council has agreed to underwrite up to $300,000 of the cost of saving the Dunedin Physio Pool, despite concerns ratepayers were being treated as ''the funder of last resort''.

The concerns came as councillors at yesterday's long-term plan meeting voted to budget for an underwriting - worth up to $100,000 a year for the next three years - to help save the popular facility.

The offer was conditional on the Otago Therapeutic Pool Trust raising another $750,000 - or close to it - by a June 30 deadline, and a report showing the plans to repair the ageing facility were feasible, councillors decided.

Their decisions followed calls from some councillors at yesterday's meeting to help the trust save the pool, and from others for the Southern District Health Board and other parties to contribute more.

Cr Hilary Calvert said the trust deserved the security of the council's offer while it continued its fundraising efforts.

''To me it's a priority ahead of a whole lot of other things we might support,'' she said.

Other councillors agreed, including Cr Andrew Whiley, although he questioned why the SDHB had not done more to maintain it.

Cr Neville Peat said the pool remained a ''crown-owned entity'', and the city and the council were being ''let down''.

''We are the council of last resort, probably, for the trust to keep this going,'' he said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull agreed, but said the council's contribution was warranted because of the pool's therapeutic benefits to the city.

The council should not have to be ''a funder of last resort'', but it was, and if it did not contribute ''then it will close'', he said.

''That will be a great loss I think,'' Mr Cull said.

The decisions meant the underwriting would be included in the draft LTP, to be released for consultation next month.

Yesterday's debate came after the cash-strapped SDHB announced last July it planned to close the pool in December, citing a $100,000 operating shortfall and the need for a $1 million upgrade.

The pool was later granted a six-month reprieve, giving trust members until June to find funds to continue its operation.

The 35degC pool was used by 40,000 people a year, mostly those recovering from injury or surgery, or with disabilities or mobility issues.

Yesterday, Cr Richard Thomson, answering councillors' questions, said the SDHB would contribute by offering the building to the trust, rent-free, and paying for the use of it by hospital patients.

However, only a small proportion of its users were SDHB patients, and the pool was not needed for their treatment, he said.

If the pool remained open, it was expected admission fees would have to rise to cover the trust's costs, he said.

Cr Thomson withdrew from yesterday's debate citing a conflict of interest with his role as a SDHB board member.

Councillors voted to include the underwriting as part of the LTP for the purposes of public consultation.

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