The Iola Municipal Pool will open Wednesday, giving swimmers a few weeks of summer fun — provided they can do so safely.
City Council members ordered the pool’s opening after debating the pros and cons of opening a pool amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has delayed the opening since Memorial Day.
The bottom line: large groups already are congregating at Iola’s Riverside Park on a daily basis to watch baseball, softball and T-ball games, Councilman Carl Slaugh noted. Why can’t they do the same at the pool?
Four of the six Council members in attendance favored opening the pool, provided special rules are implemented before Wednesday.
“I’m thinking there are ways we can comply with state rules and meet some exceptions,” Slaugh said. “If we allow baseball, we should allow swimming.”
Among the expected rules: Attendance will likely be capped to no more than 30 swimmers at a time, and swimmers will be asked to limit their swimming sessions to two hours if others are waiting to enter.
All visitors also will be expected to sign in, and wear masks if they’re not in the water.
Opening Wednesday will allow the city to have the pool open for about three weeks.
“It’s danged if we do, danged if we don’t,” Councilman Gene Myrick said. “My gut feeling is, yes it’s three weeks. Why deprive these kids and adults with an activity any more than they’ve already been deprived of?”
Joining Myrick and Slaugh in favoring reopening the pool were Kim Peterson and Steve French.
French noted the crowds already attending ball games, most of whom are unmasked.
Voicing opposition were Mark Peters and Nancy Ford.
“I’m not for any of it,” Ford said. “I don’t think they should be playing ball, either.”
Council members Ron Ballard and Nickolas Kinder were absent.
The debate came after Interim City Administrator Corey Schinstock and Mayor Jon Wells both recommended shuttering the pool for the year.
Wells noted that pools in Chanute and Fort Scott had reopened, but Neosho and Bourbon counties, respectively, also had opted out of the governor’s statewide mandate requiring masks when in public.
Allen County has not opted out, meaning the mask mandate is in effect in Iola.
“As long as we (have the mandate), the city is going to follow the county’s recommendation,” Wells said. “I don’t feel comfortable with this, but that’s why you’re here.”
Iola Donna Houser, who has used the swimming pool perhaps more frequently than any other Iolan through the years, also said the pool should remain closed because of the health risks.
“If we’re opening it, we are opening a can of worms,” Houser said. “I myself am going to miss it more than anyone, but I think we shouldn’t open.”
As an aside, keeping the pool open will allow the city to accommodate the Kansas Army National Guard’s request to allow for water training for its Guardsmen — 15 or so — sometime next week.
The pool will be closed to the public during the training, Schinstock said.
Recreation Director Jason Bauer said he had a crew of about 20 lifeguards ready to go.
COUNCIL MEMBERS set a July 27 public hearing necessary to approve their 2021 budget.
The budget would rely on a property tax levy of a shade more than 47 mills, virtually identical for what taxpayers paid for the 2020 budget.
That means the owner of a $75,000 house would pay about $413 annually in property taxes to support the budget. Note: the figure does not include taxes to support the county, Allen Community College or USD 257.
One of the biggest topics of conversation in setting the 2021 budget — redrafting the city’s wage scale — came back up again at Monday’s meeting.
French quizzed Schinstock and Human Resources Manager Carla Brown on the long-term consequences of implementing about $450,000 worth of raises immediately, then building on those numbers as employees earn more experience.
Brown noted Iola’s benefits packages are in line with what other municipalities offer — a question posed by French — while Wells noted department heads have effectively pared their individual budgets in order to accommodate the raises.
“This is the first time I’ve been comfortable with the budget and spending levels probably within the last four or five years,” Wells said.
Employees typically get two raises a year: one for working their way up the pay scale; the other through cost-of-living adjustments. However, Schinstock said he expected little if any COLA raise for 2021. Those adjustments are tied to the Consumer Price Index.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Schinstock said, pointing to healthy reserves in the city’s enterprise funds (with the water utility the notable exception.)
The water fund has been at dangerously low levels for years, to the point the city has had to use other reserves to make $600,000 water plant payments, most recently two years ago with sales tax reserves.
“Now, at least we can pay for the water plant out of the water plant fund,” Schinstock said.
If there are no objections at the July 27 budget hearing, Council members will ratify the 2021 spending plan then.
Plus, Schinstock noted, the Council can further pare spending for the next year.
JONATHON Goering, economic development agent for Thrive Allen County, introduced himself to Council members.
The city pays Thrive $20,000 annually for its economic development services, as do the county and Iola Industries.
Goering said he was eager to work with the city, pledging transparency and open lines of dialogue.