Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, Oct. 6 @ 6:12 p.m. / COVID-19, Community, Local Government
Crescent City Unveils Reopening Plan For Swimming Pool, But Staff Say Cost and COVID-19 Uncertainty Stand In the Way
Crescent City staff unveiled a plan for reopening the Fred Endert Municipal Pool during the COVID-19 pandemic, but advised Councilors to wait until after voters decided on a proposed sales tax increase.
Councilors, however, urged staff to take steps to curtail the amount of time it would take to obtain the necessary equipment, hire staff and prepare the pool if reopening it proves feasible. This includes hiring new mouth guards to perform CPR while minimizing the exposure to COVID-19.
“I like to believe staff can get those things going so we’re not waiting for the Council to say, ‘Let’s go ahead with this,’” Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore told staff on Monday. “If we can do some free work on this, maybe we can set the first of the year, not the middle of January. When I hear the middle of January, I immediately say, ‘Oh, it’ll be February then.’ Stuff just gets pushed.”
Del Norte County’s current position in the moderate — or third tier — of California’s four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy means the Fred Endert Municipal Pool can reopen under strict guidelines, Crescent City Recreation Director Holly Wendt told Councilors.
Raised in August, the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy places counties in one of four tiers based on their daily number of new COVID-19 cases as well as their rate of positive cases. Counties that are in the orange moderate and yellow minimal categories — the third and fourth tier — can reopen indoor pools under tight regulations and restrictions, Wendt said.
However if a county’s COVID-19 picture changes and it goes up to the Blueprint’s substantial or widespread categories — the top two tiers designated in red and purple respectively — indoor pools must stay closed for a minimum of two weeks until the number of cases or positivity rate decreases, Wendt said.
“For us, the Fred Endert Municipal Pool can only be open when Del Norte is in the minimal yellow or in the moderate orange category,” Wendt said. “We’ve worked hard and done a lot of research and participated in a lot of meetings to come up with a reopening plan.”
Despite coming up with a plan, which includes requiring face coverings while entering the pool and keeping locker rooms and showers closed, City Manager Eric Wier outlined the dilemma staff face in deciding whether the facility should reopen.
Not only does the Fred Endert Municipal Pool cost the city between $220,000 and $250,000 to keep the pool open, Wier said Del Norte’s COVID-19 picture could change forcing the city to have to shut it down again.
“To stay in the moderate (tier) we have to estimate less than a case a day, or seven cases in a week,” he said. “You know that we’ve been sort of right on the edge of this. We might have four cases in a week, we might have seven, we might have eight. There have been times we’ve gone over in the red (tier), but you have to stay in red for two weeks in order to get classified as substantial. If we end up in red, the pool must close for a minimum of two weeks.”
Del Norte County had eight active COVID-19 cases as of Monday afternoon with six reported to the Public Health Branch over the weekend, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub. All cases are self-isolating at home and their close contacts have been placed in quarantine, according to the website.
Del Norte has had a total of 152 confirmed COVID-19 cases, three hospitalizations and one death so far.
The City Council shuttered the Fred Endert Municipal Pool on March 16 when it declared a local emergency existed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a budget workshop in June, Councilors agreed to keep the pool closed through the summer after staff noted that doing so would save Crescent City about $370,000 annually. Keeping the facility closed was one of several cost-saving measures Councilors took to address a projected $800,000 deficit for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
At that workshop, Wier noted the pool has always operated at a deficit ranging from $203,344 during fiscal year 2016-17 and $465,253 in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
On Monday, Wier asked the Council to consider the costs the city would incur if it were to reopen the swimming pool only to have to shut it down if Del Norte County’s COVID-19 cases increase. He urged them to wait until city staff could bring a proposed amendment to the city’s budget to the Council in November and to see how the city’s proposed 1 percent sales tax increase fares at the ballot box on Election Day.
“If we push it back to that Nov. 16 meeting for that decision, we would reopen some time maybe mid January if the numbers and scenario looks like that is the best course to take,” Wier told Councilors.
Once the swimming pool reopens, patrons will be asked to wear face masks while entering and leaving the facility, Wendt said. Since the locker rooms and showers will be closed, patrons will be asked to shower before they arrive at the facility. They will also enter the pool through its main entrance and leave through its side door to minimize close contact, Wendt said.
The swimming pool’s slide, sauna and spa will be closed as will recreation and family swims, Wendt told Councilors.
For lap swimmers, reservations will be allowed for one swimmer per lane, Wendt said. There will be open slots available for those who want to drop in.
Two lap lanes will be reserved for those with disabilities, needing physical therapy or for the elderly, Wendt said
“We have to have 27 or (fewer) swimmers in the facility at the time and they would be maintaining a social distance unless they’re in family groups,” Wendt said.
Once the swimming pool reopens, it will offer aerobics classes with instructors teaching from the deck, Wendt said. Patrons will provide their own equipment and wear masks when entering and exiting the pool. Only 10 students will be allowed in a class, she said.
Swim lessons will also be offered to youngsters with the instructor teaching classes from the deck, Wendt said. A child under a blue swim school level must have a parent in the water with them while those at a higher level can swim without a parent, she said. The pool’s blue and green-level swim lessons will be taught in the shallow end since instructors can’t be in the water, Wendt said.
“Kids swim and hang on — it would be hard for instructors to create that social distance, so we’d have to be thoughtful about that,” she said.
Students can bring their own equipment including flotation devices and other swim supports, Wendt said.
Reopening the pool requires increasing the number of lifeguards the city employs, Wendt said. There needs to be a minimum of three when the facility is open; more during lessons and other activities, she said. This, Wendt said, would be a minimum monthly cost of $19,000 to the city.
These lifeguards would also need to be re-certified and would have to undergo special CPR training that takes COVID-19 guidelines into consideration, Wendt said. Eleven lifeguards have said they were interested in coming back. Nine need to be recertified, she said. The hiring and training process would take six to eight seeks, she said.
Wendt said if the City Council green lit the pool’s reopening on Monday, the earliest it could be up and running would be the first week in December. This, she said, would cost the city about $250,000 in electricity, propane and water costs as well as supplies and payroll.
Wendt also referred back to Del Norte County’s COVID-19 status.
“Should the pool need to be closed, the city would still need to pay unemployment for its staff as well as determine if we’re going to keep the pool heated or not,” she said. “We won’t know, when we have to close, how long it will be. That’s something to take into consideration. Are we just going to keep the pool at the right temperatures and keep staff on with an indeterminate amount of time for closure?”
Though the pool is closed, the city is spending $11,000 on utilities currently, Wier said. Crescent City had also budgeted $23,000 for unemployment costs due to layoffs in April, he said. The city has been paying for unemployment through September, according to Wier.
Wier noted that the city’s finance director, Linda Leaver, showed a projected ending fund balance of $900,000 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. This is less than the Council’s policy of maintaining an ending fund balance of 25 percent of what’s budgeted on an annual basis, he said, which equates to about $1.5 million.
Opening the pool decreases that projected ending fund balance to about $660,000 to $680,000, Wier said.
Following staff’s presentation, Councilors asked about the city’s hiring process as well as the need for using chemicals to keep the pool open. Councilor Jason Greenough, who once worked as a lifeguard, noted that he had been required to pay for his own certification before he was hired. Though he wasn’t sure if that was possible currently, Greenough suggested this as a way to streamline the re-hiring process.
However, Wier said the city began paying for the certification process as a way of recruiting new lifeguards. He also pointed out that to be certified to be a lifeguard, an applicant needs to be able to swim in the pool, which means bringing it back to a comfortable temperature.
Wendt also pointed out that reopening the swimming pool will require new CPR practices that will take three of them being in the water at the same time.
“And, we’ve already laid them off and they’ve accrued financial impacts of not working,” she said. “We really need to get the chemical level in the water up to go through the hiring process.”
Wendt also noted that the a committee of organizations and patrons who regularly use the pool have been working on potential funding opportunities for the facility. This includes determining ways to implement a master plan.
Inscore noted that the city could raise its fees at the swimming pools, but doing so would price many residents out of being able to use it. This, he said, is why he supports Measure S, Crescent City’s proposed 1 percent sales tax increase that, if voters approve it, would generate revenue not only to keep the swimming pool sustainable, but to go toward Crescent City Fire & Rescue, the police department and road maintenance.
“We’re going to have to have a long term sustainable plan,” Inscore said. “Yes, we can generate more revenue by (raising) the costs. That’s what other communities and other municipal pools have done. The unfortunate thing, from my perspective, is raising the cost puts a disproportionate burden on the low-income community.”