The City of Rio Rancho isn’t planning to hold traditional children’s summer camps or open the outdoor pools this year due to the novel-coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Gregg Hull explained the reasons at the governing body meeting Wednesday. Because of a lack of earlier guidance from the state and concerns about spreading COVID-19, especially among children, he said, the city’s budget for next fiscal year doesn’t include money for summer camps or operation of outdoor pools.
That situation could change before the governing body approves the budget May 27.
Rio Rancho resident Michael Jackovich submitted written comments disagreeing with not offering the services.
Without summer camps, he said, youth would get into trouble, even more than the increase in graffiti his neighborhood is already seeing.
“The impact with all three outdoor pools closed for the summer is even greater,” Jackovich wrote.
He said some senior citizens have orthopedic problems that prevent any exercise but water sports, and teenagers learn responsibility and leadership as lifeguards. He also worried that without pools or swimming lessons, children might try to swim in the Rio Grande and drown.
Hull said the city could afford the services, but safety was the problem.
“Our concerns with the summer camps and the swimming pools are multi-fold,” he said.
Until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference, which started two hours before the governing body meeting, Hull said, city officials didn’t know what the state would allow this summer. They didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on training, supplies and so forth, only to be prohibited from opening pools or holding camps, meaning no return on investment.
Plus, lifeguards and camp counselors needed to be trained by May 1. The city could rush the training, but on top of the normal skills, employees would need to know COVID-safe practices, he said.
City Councilor Jeremy Lenentine pointed to the life-saving value of good training.
“We saw (last) year, with a lifeguard saving the life of a young girl, I don’t think it would be wise to try to rush people’s training, especially if they were new to this,” he said.
Acting City Manager Peter Wells said a concern with summer camps is data indicating New Mexico children are contracting COVID-19 at three times the national rate. Summer camps could expose children to the disease, the city couldn’t allow the large numbers typically participating in camps, and all potential field-trip destinations would be closed, he said.
For summer camps, Lujan Grisham ordered that children be separated into groups of no more than five, with each group led by the same counselor for the entire program and never mingling with other groups. They’re also not allowed to take part in competitive or contact sports.
Hull said if a counselor became sick or otherwise unable to come to work, the five children he or she supervised would have nowhere to go. He also worried about the city’s liability if COVID-19 spread within the programs.
Wells said he hoped to reopen the aquatic center, libraries and City Hall at 25 percent occupancy with COVID-safe practices, much like private businesses are required to do, May 26.
“Nothing that came out today would appear to prohibit it,” he said.
Current employees would go back to work to operate the facilities.
Wells said city staff members are considering holding “micro-camps” in July, but haven’t made a decision.
In other business, governing body members:
• Voted to move forward in the process to sell a piece of land at 2570 Abrazo Road to developer Pierre Amestoy at the appraised value. A public comment period comes next, followed by the sale, said Public Works Director B.J. Gottlieb.
The city was going to use the lot for a drainage pond. However, it was determined to be unsuitable for the purpose and Abrazo has other drainage now, he said.
• Voted to move almost $118,000 from reserves to pay for necessary repairs and a maintenance agreement for the emergency-services communication system.
• Approved the formation and membership of the Rio Rancho Business Community and Economic Recovery Task Force.