After a full day meeting devoted to discussing the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget proposed by Town Manager Boyd Veal, Signal Mountain Commissioners ended the meeting talking about how the town and recreation facilities will operate as the coronavirus threat continues.
The budget will be formally presented for a vote at the next regularly scheduled council meeting on June 8.
Mr. Veal described the budget as very straight forward and conservative. The only amendment that is expected will be the additional cost of changing the town’s email to a different system. Prior to that, a special meeting will be held next Wednesday at 9 a.m. for the purpose of performing a yearly review of the town manager, and discussion about the future of the Mountain Arts Community Center where citizen participation will be allowed.
Discussion about the use of recreation facilities took place, with the main concern being the municipal pool. “I have been inundated with people wanting to know if the pool will be opening,” said Parks and Recreation Director Jarred Thompson.” The council members have to be mindful of all residents, said Council member Susannah Murdock. The health and well-being of residents at Alexian and a large number of retirees that live in the town needs to be balanced with the desire for kids to enjoy the amenities that are available, she said.
Council member Murdock added, “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But I’m not ready to open the pool yet."
Mr. Veal, Mr. Thompson, and three members of the council all doubt the feasibility of being able to carry out the general rules in place to control the spread of coronavirus. Among other things, it includes the requirement of social distancing, limiting group sizes to 10 or less, the difficulty of continually disinfecting the restrooms and wearing masks. Mayor Dan Landrum is not yet ready to close the facility for the summer, believing there may be a way to establish limits and make the rules clear.
Council member Cheryl Graham noted that the Hamilton County pools will not be opened for general use, but for lap swimming only. And for the first time in 60 years, there will be no swim leagues in the Chattanooga area.
The mayor put forth a scenario of restricting use of the Signal Mountain pool allowing only adults to sign up to use the pool for swimming laps, keeping restrooms and concessions closed, limiting the number of people allowed in the pool area and limiting group sizes to 10 who must distance from other groups of 10, all while staying six feet apart from one another while wearing a mask.
How to enforce all the rules that will be needed presents a big problem. The town manager said he visualizes groups of teens scheduling lap times at the same time so they can be there together. Then he envisions multiple groups migrating together. Council member Murdock said she feels like teens would be running roughshod over those in charge and not listening. "I do not know if we can manage and enforce that," said Mr. Veal.
On a normal year, the town manager said cost over revenue for opening the pool is about $50,000. It is estimated to cost around $20,000 to open it in a limited way - for chemical costs, electricity and water. Additionally, there would be the expense of hiring lifeguards and staff would need to be larger than usual to have enough people enforcing all the rules. Cost to staff the pool would depend on how many hours it would be open, which would impact the number of lifeguards needed.
The decision was postponed until the next council meeting where the parks and recreation director will bring a variety of scenarios regarding opening the pool, while the numbers of Covid-19 cases in the area will continue to be watched.
The town’s gym is considered to present many of the same problems as the pool and is still closed. Mr. Thompson said it is unknown if protocol would be followed there, and there would also be a cost to staff it. It might even be a worse situation than the pool since it is an enclosed space. The library remains closed.
As for other city operations, Mr. Veal said they are going well. Recycling has improved after the first week that the new procedures were put in place. “It’s amazing how much business can be done without anyone coming in the door,” he said.
The council was in agreement that the parking lots for Rainbow Lake could be reopened with the addition of signs stating that street parking is prohibited. The parking lots on North Palisades will also be opened with signs warning that there will be no off-site parking. Signs will give police the ability to enforce the rules and limit the number of people. Both areas can be re-closed if there are too many violations. Signal Point, which is a unit of the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Park, remains closed at this time. However, the city will erect no parking signs along Signal Point Road in preparation for when that portion of the national park is opened.
The special meeting next Wednesday will be held on Zoom.