Pool fees could sink Aquanauts Council passes 2005 budget

Fort Frances town council passed its 2005 budget Monday night with little input from the public.
The only exception was Fort Frances Aquanauts Swim Team president John Dutton, who expressed deep concern over a significant increase in pool fees that are included in the 2005 user fee schedule.
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 swim 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).
Still, Dutton noted the increase is “excessive and unfair,” noting that the net result will be an increase in the club’s annual pool costs from $14,000 to nearly $40,000 in 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. In fact, the Aquanauts will probably be forced to shut down,” Dutton said.
Dutton requested the town indefinitely freeze the hourly pool rate at $45, or in the very least spread the 100 percent increase over a five-year period instead of just two.
He also suggested energy efficiency measures to help the town save money at the pool, and theoretically be able to reduce fees.
But George Bell, manager of Community Services, noted that such measures likely wouldn’t save that much money, and that pool temperature, which Dutton said could be lowered for Aquanauts’ training purposes, must be dictated by the Sportsplex’s primary user groups—not the Aquanauts.
As well, moving the pool temperature up and down all the time is not recommended, he added, as it could in undesirable changes in air quality.
Bell also said that while pool rates may be lower in Dryden and Kenora, their ice rates are lower, too. Comparatively, they are about the same as here.
He added the rates here have been artificially low for too long, and the town is striving to have the Sportsplex to achieve a higher rate of cost-recovery.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who sits on the Community Services Executive Committee, noted costs at the Sportsplex are escalating, and must be recouped through user fees, as opposed to taxation.
If council chose to reduce user fees for the Aquanauts, council would see a lineup asking for reductions, and would ultimately have to increase taxes.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft asked Dutton if having a paid head coach for the Aquanauts was costing too much, to which Dutton replied the costs of renting the pool will exceed how much the club pays their head coach with this year’s fee increase.
Dutton added that to be a competitive team, a high level of expertise—such as a qualified coach—is a necessity.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft also asked Dutton if it was necessary to have two swim clubs in Fort Frances, and suggested amalgamating the Aquanauts and the Cylcone.
“I agree with you. No community of 9,000 has two swim teams,” Dutton said. “We think it would the smartest thing to do. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
“Maybe the clubs should get their act together?” said Coun. Struchan Gilson.
“It would make the most sense,” said Dutton. “Honestly, for the kids, I think it would be the best thing.”
Coun. Neil Kabel suggested the town could mediate the unification of the two swim clubs. “I’d really like to see it happen,” he remarked.
Council ended up passing the new user fee schedule, but agreed to send the matter of pool rental fees back to the Community Services Executive Committee for reconsideration.
A recommendation from that committee will come back to council at a future meeting.
The new pool rental fees don’t kick in until July 1, and the Aquanaut swim season doesn’t start until September.
Tax increase
As reported in yesterday’s Bulletin, the 2005 budget includes an overall tax increase of 2.05 percent.
This levy increase amounts to a 2.75 percent hike for residential property owners. For those with property assessed at $100,000, this would mean a hike of about $48.07 to their tax bill.
The other tax increases would be:
•5.42 percent for multi-residential;
•1.61 percent for commercial occupied;
•0.42 percent for commercial vacant;
•0.55 percent for industrial occupied/vacant;
•2.09 percent for pipelines; and
•2.75 percent for farmlands.
The budget is balanced at $19,544,724, and includes a revised user fee schedule, which while not too different from last year’s, includes a new fee structure for Day Care.
While not part of the budget per se, the water and sewer rates also are being reviewed by the town, and there will be a public meeting on June 16 at 7 p.m. The town has retained a consultant to compete a review of the rates, specifically: how new provincial regulations will impact rates in the future; and what rates will be necessary to sustain and maintain the existing system, as well as provide for the replacement of aging infrastructure.
The 2005 budget process began with a projected shortfall of $560,000.
Last year’s budget process began with a shortfall of $2.7 million, and ended with the town having to increase taxes by 9.48 percent, as well as drastically increasing some user fees while introducing some new ones.