Watertown City Council appears to be once again heading towards a decision on how many pools this community needs without having credible data on what residents want.
During Monday’s meeting, newly elected council members informally agreed to undertake a project to repair the William J. Flynn Municipal Pool at North Elementary School. Outgoing councilman Lisa Ruggiero joined newcomers Pat Hickey and Cliff Olney in calling on the city to spend $735,000 on needed repairs. Mayor Jeffrey Smith and Councilwoman Sarah Compo-Pierce have voiced their opposition to the plan – but now that they are in the minority they won’t be able to stop it.
Hickey, Olney and Ruggiero campaigned last year to keep the city’s three pools open. The board approved a contract in December with Sundance Leisure to carry out $112,000 in repairs to the Steve D. Alteri Municipal Pool at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, but that would include the use of the Flynn Pool Filter.
Approving capital funding based on questionable evidence is nothing new for city council. Ruggiero partnered with former council members Ryan Henry-Wilkinson and Cody Horbacz in 2019 to move forward with a project to build a new bathhouse and swimming pool in Thompson Park.
They used anecdotes from voters who supported the plan to justify their action. What the city never received was in-depth information on whether most residents wanted the city to spend the $3.1 million to achieve the goal of those three council members and how much. every pool is used.
We agree that public swimming pools are real gems for any community. They provide people with a wonderful recreation option during the warmer months of Upstate New York.
However, swimming pools are very expensive to maintain for a municipality. Moreover, they are generally not used for more than three months per year. The city must also pay the salaries of lifeguards hired for the summer.
It’s not that public pools aren’t worth having. But if Watertown officials are committed to paying these costs, they must be able to demonstrate that there is a clear consensus among residents to do so.
We’ve never done a thorough survey to find out what locals think of the town spending so much money on three swimming pools. It might be that most people don’t think it’s appropriate.
Maybe Watertown could get by with two pools instead of three. Would it be possible to arrange public transport so that residents of all areas of the city can use the two remaining swimming pools?
Compo-Pierce posted an interesting idea on Facebook last week. She suggested creating a wading pool at the current location of the Flynn Pool, which could be used as a skating rink in the winter. This way, the facility could be enjoyed by residents for most of the year.
This is a proposal worth considering. It can provide a less expensive alternative to the repairs needed to maintain three pools.
But whether or not council adopts this plan, it’s really important that officials have a serious discussion about what residents want and how best to pay for it. The board should commission a comprehensive study on this issue and solicit feedback.
Several years ago, the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College included a few questions about the Thompson Park pool in its annual survey for Jefferson County. Perhaps the city could hire the center to conduct a special investigation focused on what Watertown residents want in terms of public swimming pools.
We could also take advantage of a few public hearings to allow everyone to express themselves. But we all have to chop everything before we go ahead with anything.