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Chesterfield cancels swim season, fireworks amid COVID-19, financial concerns

With the uncertainty of the extended stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Chesterfield will take the unprecedented step of not opening the Family Aquatic Center in Central Park for the 2020 season and canceling its annual Independence Day celebration.

At the virtual City Council meeting on May 4, City Administrator Mike Geisel explained that the operational deficit of Aquatic Center is usually $200,000 to $250,000 each year and this year, the pool needs an additional $40,000 in repairs. He added that operating the pool would be for a shortened season at best and put the public at risk.

Tom McCarthy, director of parks and recreation, explained that two to four weeks would be required to get the pool ready and train the lifeguards. He noted that June is normally the Aquatic Center’s busiest month. Other cities, including Ellisville, Wentzville, Florissant and St. Peters have already announced their pool closings, he told the council.

But council member Tom DeCampi [Ward 4] was completely opposed to the idea. He said he believes it would cause resentment from residents.

“It’s the centerpiece of our parks system,” he said. “People paid money for this.”

Chesterfield Family Aquatic Center

While Mayor Bob Nation said it was a “tough thing to do,” he recommended not opening the pool. He said his decision was influenced by the lack of a vaccine and a possible surge in cases.

The council generally agreed and voted 5-3 to not open the pool. Council members Barb McGuinness [Ward 1], Mary Monachella [Ward 1], Mary Ann Mastorakos [Ward 2], Dan Hurt [Ward 3] and Michael Moore [Ward 3] voted in favor. Council members Ben Keathley [Ward 2], Michelle Ohley [Ward 4] and DeCampi were opposed.

Regarding the Independence Day celebration, Geisel said it would be difficult to have food trucks, a children’s play area and fireworks display yet retain social distancing. Eliminating the event would save the city $75,000.

DeCampi wanted to postpone the decision and made a motion to do so, which was defeated.

Hurt said that he trusted the staff’s decisions, noting that the city already had to implement wage freezes, layoffs and furloughs for employees to offset revenue lost as a result of the COVID-19 precautions.

DeCampi pointed out that the fireworks display could be viewed throughout the city and that people wouldn’t have to “pack in like sardines.”

“More than ever we need this,” he said.

Keathley added that fireworks are synonymous with independence and that the city could still have the fireworks display.

But the motion to cancel the event was approved 5-3 with the same vote as the pool closing.

Following the Independence Day celebration vote, DiCampi made a motion, seconded by Ben Keathley, suggesting a 10% pay cut for staff for one quarter, excluding the police department which already initiated a voluntary pay cut. He also advocated for a pay suspension for elected officials for the rest of the year, which he estimated would save about $32,000.

McGuinness pressed him on his figures and asked why he wasn’t more prepared with his recommendation.

Nation called it nothing more than a “political ploy” and accused him of “political grandstanding.”

Only DeCampi and Keathley voted in favor of the suggestion.

In a memo to the mayor and city council regarding financial projections during the stay-at-home order, Geisel wrote that the 60-day and 90-day projected losses of sales tax revenues, utility and other taxes, are estimated at $6.1 million and $7.6 million, respectively.

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