NARACOORTE Lucindale Council has moved to end widespread speculation by officially asking the question: "Should there be a charge at Naracoorte swimming lake?"
A reader poll in the Herald last month revealed the cast majority of people didn't want to pay to use the lake, which has always been free, but now the council wants to do its own official consultation.
At the suggestion of Cr Craig McGuire at last week's February meeting, the council decided that community consultation was the best way to gauge public opinion.
The council will offer people the chance to comment on whether they think a fee should be charged and on other issues such as fencing and future management of the popular public facility.
(The online poll on the Herald website revealed that of 81 responses, 55 (67.9 per cent) were against a charge, 16 (19.8 per cent) supported the proposal, and 10 (12.3 per cent) were neutral).
Raising the issue at the meeting, Cr McGuire said there seemed to be a misconception that the poll in the Herald was done on behalf of the council, which was untrue.
He said it was time that council started gathering community feedback using its own processes, and using the information to plan for the future of the lake.
Mayor Erika Vickery agreed but added that she felt council staff should do more research on the options before taking it to the community. She said a community member could give a response to a given question, but if later presented with all the facts might have an entirely different opinion.
Director of operations and technical services Phil Burton reminded the council he had tabled a discussion paper at the start of the swimming season, and suggested he could expand on that document to present to the community as part of the consultation.
Cr Ken Banning said it would be a good idea to present all the facts, because, for instance, people might oppose a charge now, but if still nothing was charged for the next 15 years, the entire facility might have to be replaced for, say, $5-$6 million.
Cr Ann Bell agreed it was better to have the conversation in the open now, because "there's a lot of talk in the town at the moment" about the lake and the possibility of an entry charge.
"Of course nobody wants that, but nobody wants not to have the lake, either," she said.
"It's such a huge impost on ratepayers.
"We need to start (planning) now, because it's going to be such a big issue."
Cr John Flynn said he had done some research on similar facilities run by other councils in the area, and his findings suggested that charging a fee might not be the silver bullet solution.
He said the Bordertown pool for instance cost Tatiara District Council $387,000 per annum to operate. It was open for three days a week from 2-5.30pm and a "quite substantial sum of money" was charged to use the pool.
This generated about $82,000 in membership fees, producing a shortfall of about $300,000.
It costs Naracoorte Lucindale Council about $220,000 - including depreciation - to operate the Naracoorte lake.
"This pool up here is an absolute godsend," Cr Flynn said. "You wonder why we're looking to do something about it.
"Compared to running a pool, it's so far in front it's hardly worth consideration."
Regardless, councillors agreed it was a good idea to seek the public's view, and voted unanimously to start a public consultation process when information about the options had been researched.