Council might give break on pool fees

Council will vote to amend the town’s user fee bylaw at its June 13 meeting in order to spread an increase in pool rental fees at the Memorial Sports Centre over two years instead of one.
“The Community Services executive realized that a 100 percent increase in fees over one year has created a hardship to the user groups and, as a result, recommends that the 2005 increase be implemented over two years, with a $7.50 increase on July 1, 2005 and a $7.50 increase on July 1, 2006,” Community Services manager George Bell wrote in a report that was approved by council at its May 24 meeting.
This means the rate would change from $45 to $52.50 per hour this year, and then from $52.50 to $60/hour in 2006.
“The committee also recommended that we look into a non-prime time rate structure that could assist all parties in addressing their financial needs, and that we investigate cost-saving suggestions as brought forward by the Aquanauts,” Bell added, referring to a presentation by club president John Dutton at the May 2 council meeting.
Council had approved the 2005 user fee schedule, which includes the pool rates, at its May 2 meeting. But on May 9, it referred back to the Community Services executive committee the portion of the user fee schedule that referred to the increase to the pool rental rates.
The recommendations in Bell’s report were the result of subsequent discussions by the Community Services executive committee.
Council’s approval of the report at its May 24 meeting means the bylaw to amend the user fee schedule will be voted on at its next meeting (June 13).
“We’re certainly sympathetic to what’s happening,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said yesterday.
“I’m glad we can do something,” he added. “We don’t want to see any club fold.”
That said, as council suggested at its May 2 meeting, the mayor noted perhaps the Aquanauts should consider other ways to cut costs or raise more money, such as merging with the Cyclone club, getting more members, or getting rid of its paid full-time coach.
Dutton could not be reached for comment.
Dutton had noted at the May 2 council meeting that the increase was “excessive and unfair,” noting the net result would be an increase in the club’s annual pool costs from $14,000 to nearly $40,000 over the past three years.
“If the latest $15 per hour fee hike comes to pass, our ability to maintain a competitive swim club in Fort Frances is in serious jeopardy,” Dutton had said at the time.
“In fact, the Aquanauts will probably be forced to shut down,” he warned.
Dutton had requested the town indefinitely freeze the hourly pool rate at $45, or at the very least spread the 100 percent increase over a five-year period.
He also suggested energy efficiency measures to help the town save money at the pool—and theoretically be able to reduce fees.
This marks the second time council has decided to spread a pool fee hike out to allow swim clubs a chance to adjust. In the 2004 user fee schedule, the town was going to increase the pool hourly rental fee from $30 to $60.
But due to pleas from local clubs, council instead opted to stagger the hike—increasing the rates 50 percent last year ($30 to $45 per hour) and another 50 percent this year ($45 to $60).
During the 2004 budget process, council had asked for a user fee review, at which time the Community Service executive committee identified the pool rental rate to swim teams was “arbitrarily set low,” Bell said in his report.
This was identified after looking at “a province-wide comparison done by Parks and Recreation Ontario for rental rates for a 25-metre pool, where ours were the lowest in Ontario and the provincial average was $78/hour,” Bell added.
He noted this fact informed the committee’s original decision to raise pool rental rates to 75 percent of those charged for ice rental.
Ice rental rates here traditionally have been significantly higher than pool fees, and the hike was to make them more comparable.