WALLINGFORD — With no funding in next fiscal year’s budget, it’s likely Community Pool will be shuttered for the second year in a row.
According to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s municipal budget proposal for 2021-22, there’s no funding allotted for pool operations, such as lifeguards, utilities or pool chemicals.
“At this point, certainly we're not budgeting any money to be able to open the pool,” Dickinson said Monday. “Right now, I don't have a lot of confidence that things will be open enough to have people to go to a pool. We're still wearing masks, and there's a lot of uncertainty about where we will be in a stage of opening up.”
Dickinson didn’t remove pool funding from the budget — Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Michaels did not request funds for Community Pool operations.
Michaels did not return a request for comment Monday.
The pool was also closed last summer — not due to its condition or concerns about COVID-19.
The pool was expected to be closed for renovations to the 7.12-acre North Main Street Extension property. The new design featured a scaled-down pool — the current pool is 43,000 square feet — splash pad, new bathhouse and repaved parking lot, among other optional amenities like a picnic area and sand volleyball.
In May of last year, Dickinson vetoed a council-approved ordinance amendment that would have appropriated $7.4 million to fund the project.
Pool operational costs are funded over two budgets because of the way the fiscal year is set up.
The fiscal year ends June 30 and a new fiscal year begins July 1, meaning the pool is opened with money from the current budget and kept open for the season with the money from the next fiscal year's budget.
As a result of the pool's closure last summer for the anticipated renovation that didn't happen, the maintenance and repair work that needs to be performed before opening the pool for the season was not funded in the current budget.
Michael Savenelli Sr., chair of the Recreation Commission’s subcommittee on the future of Community Pool, said Monday that there's no money in the budget for the pool to reopen because “there's no sense in throwing good money into a bad situation.”
“We are hoping to regroup and meet with the mayor about going out to rebid the original plan” after the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is settled, he said. The Town Council is scheduled to vote on adopting a budget May 11.
“This is not the time to ask for a special meeting (with the mayor) with this,” he said.Town Council could amend budget
The Town Council could amend Dickinson’s budget to include funding to open the pool for the summer. When asked Monday, council members weighed in on where they stand currently.
Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said via email that “it makes no sense” to open Community Pool when mask-wearing while congregating is still place, or to patch up the current pool.
“I do not think ... Community Pool should open this summer,” he said. “It is my hope that we can all develop more confidence in the economy and support construction of a new facility in the near future.”
Councilor Chris Shortell, the council’s liaison to the Recreation Commission pool committee, said via email that he supports keeping the pool closed this summer.
“From a public health perspective, I don’t think we’ll know if it’s safe to have the pool open until we get closer to summer,” he said, “and Parks and Rec needs more lead time than that to recruit and train lifeguards, test the equipment, etc. … I think the focus should be on moving ahead with the new pool, especially given the outcome of revaluation and the recent report of nearly $2 million in unassigned dollars in the Cap and Non account that could defray the cost.”
The Capital and Nonrecurring Expenditure Fund is an account for capital improvements for which the town is authorized to issue bonds. Several closed-out projects — some dating back to the 1960s — have leftover funds. Although money can potentially be moved around within Cap and Non, funds cannot be taken out once they are there, as per the Town Charter.
Councilor Christina Tatta said via email that she would want more information from the Parks and Health departments as to why they did not request funding.
“Since there is no money in the current budget for them to get started opening the pool and doing spring maintenance and repairs, and with Covid restrictions still in place, I don't think it's feasible that the pool would be open this summer,” she said, adding that she may want to address at a budget hearing about how the lack of funding would affect the 2022 season, since each pool season spans two fiscal years.
Councilor Craig Fishbein said via email that while he’s in favor of the pool being opened this summer, “even if the Town Council appropriates the money, that does not make it happen.”
The early spring walk-through of the pool facility to test the equipment, the hiring and scheduling of seasonal staffing and cooperation from the Public Works division would be required, he said — all of which fall within the purview of the mayor.
“Due to the fact that the Executive Branch (Mayor’s Office) and responsible agency are apparently not in favor of the pool being opened, combined with uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, those monies, even if appropriated, would most likely not get used,” he said.
Councilor Jason Zandri said via email that he wouldn't vote to fund operational dollars into this budget because the pool can't open “as-is,” nor would he vote to fund “repair work only” because “it addresses nothing more than the short term, seasonal issue of running the pool for one year.”
“I would support, once again, funding the refurbishment of the entire facility so that we could have a refitted pool and grounds for many future years of use and enjoyment,” he said.
Councilor Vincent Testa said via email that if Michaels didn’t request funding, “he clearly does not see the value in attempting to operate this summer.”
“I don’t foresee proposing we put funding in under these circumstances,” he said.
“We need to push hard to move forward with the renovation project, but that’s an argument for another day.”
Council Vice Chairman Tom Laffin said via email that he’s not in favor of opening the pool this summer, but that the renovation project should go out to bid again.
“My economic concerns are lessened as we rise back up,” he said, especially since the property revaluation came back favorable “when we faced a serious concern it may not, and we have seen in other projects the cost of projects lower due to Covid.”
“… It’s great if we could get moving on the next iteration while it would be closed anyway,” he said.
Councilors Gina Morgenstein and Joe Marrone did not respond to a request for comment.