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Santa Fe Country Club to be billed $509 for water from firefighters’ training

May 25, 2019

In an about-face, the city said Friday it will bill the Santa Fe Country Club just over $500 for 80,000 gallons of water firefighters hosed into the club’s members-only pool in the wee hours last weekend, just as it was about to open for the summer season.

The Santa Fe Fire Department had agreed to fill the country club’s private, outdoor pool at public expense between Saturday night and early Sunday morning as part of what city officials called a training exercise.

According to the country club’s website, the heated pool is set to open Monday.

City officials initially defended the fire department’s actions — and never explained why the fire department conducted the training exercise at the private club instead of at the city-owned Bicentennial Pool, which is scheduled to open Tuesday.

Daily swimming rates at Bicentennial Pool range from $1.50 for a child to $3 for an adult — or a seasonal pass available for $100. That compares with $700 for a seasonal pool membership at the country club, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Following a news report on the city’s deal with the country club, officials backpedaled Friday.

“The value of the firefighter draft training is undeniable, and it is certainly a factor in saving lives and creating shorter response times in areas not served by hydrants,” city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said in an email.

“However we cannot afford the perception of special treatment for a private entity,” she added. “These draft trainings will no longer be authorized on private property, and will instead utilize municipal pools and other public waterways.”

Chacon said the city entered a “special charge” of about $509 to the country club’s utility account for the 80,000 gallons of water used in the training exercise. That’s less than a third of the cost for a household or small business to use an equal volume of water in a month.

“It’s not even the money,” Chacon said in a telephone interview. “It’s the principle.”

Chacon said the president of the country club’s board “has been made aware of the situation” and told the city that the board has already approved the payment.

“The bill will be sent on normal schedule billing June 13,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bicentennial Pool, the city’s only outdoor pool, will be open only on weekdays at the beginning of the season because of staffing issues.

The pool won’t open on weekends “until we have all the staffing and equipment issues resolved,” Chacon said in an email. “There are several lifeguard and front-desk hires in the pipeline, and we expect to be able to expand hours as the season progresses.”

Lifeguard shortages have plagued the city’s public pools, leading to reduced swimming hours at indoor facilities this winter. Further limiting winter and early spring swimming options, maintenance issues closed the aquatic center at the city-owned Fort Marcy Recreation Complex for a few months and forced closure of the Salvador Perez Recreation Center pool until the year’s end.

Chacon encouraged “interested job-seekers” to contact the city for employment opportunities at Bicentennial Pool.

“We are looking for full-time, part-time and on-call lifeguards,” she wrote.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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