WATERTOWN — The long saga of how to pay for the Thompson Park pool and bathhouse project is finally over.
In a reversal from the former City Council, the current council on Monday night unanimously agreed to bond $1.5 million for the remaining cost of the $3.3 million project.
While he was opposed to the pool, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, who proposed revisiting the issue, said that bonding was “in the best interest of the city.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Councilman Jesse CP Roshia said before the vote.
The bonding will pay for only work that has yet to be done on the project. It cannot pay for the $1.6 million work already finished.
Monday night’s action ends a contentious and lengthy debate on how to pay for the pool. Not having the four votes for bonding in August, the former council voted, 3-2, to use $2.9 million of the city’s fund balance, a move that was criticized as a financial risk for the city.
But Councilwoman Lisa Ruggiero said she reversed her decision on Monday night after getting reassurances from Mayor Smith that he would not push for closing one of the other two city summer pools next summer.
That issue will come during next spring’s budget deliberations, Mayor Smith said, adding “it’s two separate issues.”
“I told him still support keeping the two other pools,” she said later.
There was “a social media frenzy” over the weekend after people heard that the bonding issue was going to be revisited and Mayor Smith wanted to look at closing one of the pools at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds or the North Elementary School on the city’s north side, Councilwoman Ruggiero said.
People on both sides of the pool project expressed concerns that it was opening up old wounds, she said. Before she voted, the councilwoman also wanted to know how the long-term debt and bonding would affect the city’s bond rating.
Moody’s credit rating agency would probably look at it as maintaining fiscal stability, City Comptroller James E. Mills said.
This fall, the pool became a major campaign issue with Mayor Smith and Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo and candidate Roshia running on a team opposing the new pool and bathhouse because of its increasing cost. Councilwoman Ruggiero, Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson and mayoral candidate and council member Cody J. Horbacz continued to support the pool.
In January 2018, the former council was adamant not to spend a penny more than the $2.4 million set by going to bond, but the project’s price tag kept escalating, so several changes were made to try to reign in its cost.
The city received a $200,000 state grant to help pay for it.
The new pool will replace the 94-year-old pool that closed after the 2013 season because of its deteriorating condition. With so much work already completed this winter, the new pool should be ready to open in July.