COVID protocols, town finances are factors in decision
By Don Nelson
The Twisp Town Council supports opening the Wagner Memorial Pool this summer, with the same caveats that applied last year: It must make financial sense, and COVID protocols for participation by staff and users must be observed.
The popular pool remained closed all last summer, not only eliminating a recreational option for valley residents but also wiping the Killer Whales swim team’s season.
At its meeting last week, the council once again heard entreaties from Friends of the Pool, the nonprofit organization that has for the past couple of years been working on strategies for funding and building a new facility to replace the Wagner Pool.
Friends of the Pool representatives offered to assist the town, including with fundraising efforts, in opening the pool for the 2021 season. They also suggested that an ad hoc committee including town representatives be formed to develop a plan to open the pool.
The town received numerous letters supporting the pool’s opening.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody noted that the town’s 2021 budget does not include a line item for operating the pool this year. She said the typical town participation in the pool’s operating is about $77,000. The council adopted a stringent budget for this year because of an anticipated drop in general fund revenues attributable to coronavirus impacts.
When the 2021 budget was adopted, council members agreed they could revisit the pool question if it look feasible to open.
Ing-Moody said the town has yet to receive a comprehensive report on first-quarter revenues and spending, and can’t make any decisions until it has the information.
Ready to help
Bo Thrasher, a Friends of the Pool representative and Killer Whales coach, told the council that the organization understands the town’s budget challenges, but is willing to partner with Twisp to find a way to operate the pool. Friends of the Pool could assist in any necessary fundraising, she said.
Under the existing Phase 2 status of the state’ COVID recovery plan, the pool would have more flexibility to offer programs, Thrasher said. She cited the Winthrop Rink’s successful winter, under strict COVID protocols, as a possible model for the pool’s operation.
Other community pools in the area are making plans to open this summer, Thrasher said.
Ing-Moody said that in addition to financial questions, a decision to open the pool is “an issue of public safety and health … every precaution has to be taken to minimize the risk.”
Council member Alan Caswell said he was impressed by the amount of community support for the pool and would like to see it open, but added that he has “some remaining concerns.”
Council member Mark Easton said there are unanswered variables that still need to be addressed. “We want to do this right,” he said. Council member Aaron Studen said he favors opening, but more information is needed to support that action.
Council member Hans Smith said he has “a level of optimism” about the pool opening, but added that “it’s a balancing act that needs to be resolved.”
Ing-Moody reiterated that the town needs a better idea of its current financial situation, and will take a “temporary pause” before joining forces with Friends of the Pool to develop a plan.
The pool, which opened in 1967, is more than 50 years old and showing its age. A large part of its annual operating expenses come from the Wagner Fund, named after the pool’s original benefactors. That fund is expected to run out of money by 2024.
Friends of the Pool has raised a substantial amount of money over the years — estimated at about $400,000 — for repairs and operational expenses. Most of the money came from small donations, she said, along with some larger gifts.
Recent repairs, however, have simply been short-term solutions to keeping the pool operational one more season at a time.
In other business:
• The council approved a $26,000 contract with the Twisp Chamber of Commerce to provide tourism marketing efforts. The funds come from hotel/motel tax receipts that must be used to promote tourism.
• Public Works Director Andrew Denham reported that construction of the town’s sports complex project planned near the Twisp Municipal Airport was going to bid on Feb. 24, and bids will be accepted until March 17.
The facility is being developed in conjunction with the Methow Valley School District.
According to the call for bids, the project will include construction of a soccer field, a baseball field, crushed rock paths, limited parking, a backstop, two dugouts, cement concrete curb and pavements, fencing, sports field irrigation, seeding and sod, and miscellaneous site improvements. Estimated cost of the project ranges from $425,000 to $490,000.