(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)
The City of Colville announced that it will be closing the Colville City Pool for the 2020 season, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Colville City Council recently made the decision and Colville Mayor Ralph Lane Jr. made a statement about the closure on the city’s website.
“These are such trying times for all worldwide, including us here in Colville,” Lane Jr. said. “First and foremost, I want to clarify that this determination by Council was not made by them alone. It was in concurrence with Department heads and Mayor and yet as they are the financial decision-making body for the City, this choice could only have been made by them.”
Operating the city pool costs the city approximately $100K a year, Lane Jr. said and while that changes depending on repairs and other issues that might crop up at the facility, about a third of that is committed to startup costs. This could be an issue for a small city like Colville where they could see the pool never open to the public for restrictions or be open for just a few weeks.
“In any given year, it takes roughly two months of preparation, cleaning, filling, balancing and heating the pool and its water for it to be ready for public use,” Lane Jr. said. “It holds approximately 300,000 gallons of water and so it takes time to complete these tasks and in each season, the costs to open it are about the same.”
The city also has to hire and train staff and the cost-per-month is unpredictable to run the pool because of equipment failures and bad weather causing poor turnout, the mayor added.
Lane Jr. fully supported the council saying that the decision was a heavy one. Along with the safety of those using the pool – where PPE usage would basically be impossible – the City of Colville will have to contend with an upcoming financial situation for all levels of government both state and local. Washington recently announced that government agencies should expect to cut their budgets 10-15 percent for next year.
“Most of you understand that our pool operates yearly at a financial loss and always has, but such is the nature of a seasonal facility that has operational and maintenance needs all year long,” Lane Jr. said. “So in the end, it’s a matter of timing with regard to this facility. Do we choose to open it for just a few weeks when the cost to prep and open it is about the same as for three months of normal use? What if we choose to prepare it for opening only to remain in Phase 2 where we cannot legally open it to the public? Tough questions abound.”
The risk is putting a large amount of money to start the pool and then never being able to open or open only for a short period. That would be money lost heading into rough budget times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The risks of what could come outweigh some of optional services that the City would normally provide,” Lane Jr. said. “I deeply dislike this and so does council, but neither of us has the power to change what is. City leadership does consistently recognize our responsibilities to you that live here in the forms of providing drinking water, maintenance of our streets and snow plowing, effective and compliant operation of our wastewater treatment facility, effective police and fire services and so on. To us, these are absolutes that we cannot allow to be financially compromised and to that end, the decision to close the pool was not made in a vacuum nor one that any of us desired.”
Stevens County is awaiting the June 1 date when it could move to Phase 3 in the state’s re-opening plan which would allow public gatherings of under 50 people. How the state would allow a public pool to operate is currently unclear.