2020 pool season, July 4 fireworks in the balance

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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The Austin City Council elected to wait for a recommendation from the Park and Recreation Board before making a decision on whether or not to open the Austin Municipal Pool for the 2020 season during its work session Monday evening.

Austin Park and Recreation Director Kevin Nelson said that because of COVID-19, other departments around the state have been “kicking the can down the road” in regards to their pool seasons. He noted that a decision would be better made sooner than later as Park and Rec would need time to prepare to open the pool if the decision to do so is made.

“It will get more and more difficult to salvage the season the further we push this down the road,” Nelson said.

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Councilman Jeff Austin (At-Large), who serves on the Park and Recreation Board, said it would be ideal for a decision to be made this week.

“If you delay opening, you’re probably better off not opening for the season at all,” he said, noting that a delayed opening would not be fiscally responsible given the expense in opening the pool.

Austin said that he would recommend to the Park and Recreation Board not to open the pool.

Councilman Steve King (Second Ward) expressed concern about opening the pool in light of a recent COVID-19 model from the Minnesota Department of Health that predicts the number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota will peak in early to mid-July.

The Park and Recreation Board will meet Wednesday afternoon.

City Clerk Ann Kasel continued her July 4 fireworks discussion with the council during the work session. During the April 20 work session, Kasel provided several options on how to possibly hold the fireworks display during the COVID-19 pandemic. The council opted to look into holding the fireworks at Cooks Farm and having the general public park in the parking lots of nearby businesses and remain in their vehicles while they watched as a means of social distancing.

With concerns over COVID-19 possibly peaking in July, Kasel said the likelihood of holding a safe fireworks event is becoming more challenging. She noted that Rochester and Blooming Prairie have cancelled their Fourth of July fireworks programs, meaning more people could possibly come to Austin if Austin’s fireworks display is allowed to go on.

Six council members favored cancelling the fireworks; Councilman Jason Baskin (Second Ward) cast the lone dissenting vote.

The council will officially vote on whether or not to cancel the Fourth of July fireworks program during the next regular meeting on May 18.

In other business, the council approved a resolution for sidewalk improvement work to be done on the south side of Fourth Avenue Northwest from 12th Street to 14th Street Northwest. The work, which is to be done near Wescott Field, will cost an estimated $65,000 and will be assessed to Austin Public Schools with a final assessment hearing to be held on Oct. 5.

The council also unanimously approved the adoption of a dental amalgam ordinance intended to limit the discharge of mercury into the sanitary sewer system.