People swim to beat the heat in summer 2018 at the Steven D. Alteri Pool at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Residents won’t be able to take a dip in the pool at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds anymore.

During a Saturday morning budget session, the City Council decided to close the Alteri pool at the fairgrounds permanently, making good on a campaign promise by Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and council members Sarah Compo and Jesse Roshia to close one of the city’s three pools.

All three city pools are closed for the summer under state social distancing rules for the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 4-1 vote, the council chose to shut down the fairgrounds pool, rather than the Flynn pool at the North Street School or the $3.1 million new pool now under construction at Thompson Park.

They will open next summer once the pandemic is over.

Mayor Smith said the fairgrounds pool would be immediately decommissioned, so that it won’t ever be used again. During Saturday’s discussion, council members talked about replacing that pool with a second splash pad at the site.

“A city of our size doesn’t need three pools,” he said, adding that the city would save between $90,000 and $100,000 in maintenance costs.

While it was a campaign promise, the decision to cut a pool is occurring while council members grapple with the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus financial crisis that’s resulted in a proposed city budget that includes a 6.5 percent tax, 23 layoffs and severe cuts in the Parks and Recreation Department.

In voting no, Councilwoman Lisa Ruggiero argued that three pools provide low-income families something to do in their neighborhoods, especially since the city cannot open its summer playground program because of the coronavirus.

She’s heard from residents who question the services that the city provides to them and who say “all you do is cut. What do we get?” The summer parks and recreation programs are the only activities that they can afford, she said.

But Mayor Smith instructed city staff to look how the CitiBus system can provide transportation to Thompson Park where families can use the new pool and other amenities at the park.

During the discussion, Erin E. Gardner, parks and recreation superintendent, lobbied council members not to lay off two of the department’s eight maintenance workers. No decision was made.

Council members also discussed the budgets for the police and fire departments, the Flower Memorial Library and the Engineering Office during the nearly four-hour marathon budget session.

“It’s a lean budget,” Mayor Smith said.

During the meeting, Library director Yvonne Reff said eliminating 1.5 positions will cause the Flower Memorial Library to close on Sundays and one evening a week. It would be unsafe to remain open Sundays by having just two librarians working on those days, she said.

Earlier in the meeting, Fire Chief Matthew Timerman said his department will move ahead with plans to purchase a new ladder truck in the city’s capital budget. The $1.4 million ladder truck is needed because the current front line ladder is 34 years old, making it difficult to get repairs done on the truck, he said.

It will take between 18 and 24 months to order the new ladder truck and have it delivered, the fire chief said.

Under the proposed $41.9 million proposed budget, four new police officers now completing field training will be cut, with one returning after an expected retirement in July.

A vacant engineer technician, a building maintenance, a code enforcement office positions are among the other cuts. A receptionist in the engineering office recently retired and won’t be replaced.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix also said on Saturday there hasn’t been any movement to make salary cuts with the police officers’ union that could be used to offset the jobs cuts in that department.

Council members hope to wrap up budget deliberations with a meeting tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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