WESTLOCK – The Town of Westlock’s new recreation assistance program, an initiative which will give low-income residents up to 50 per cent discounted access to rec facilities like the Rotary Spirit Centre and even the community assistance bus, is being hailed as “a proud moment for council.”
At their Sept. 13 meeting, councillors voted 7-0 to enshrine the program, which community services director Gerry Murphy says will not only promote “equity and inclusion” but hopefully get more people using the facilities. The program will be administered by Family & Community Support Services and is part of a broader initiative dubbed WeCARE (community activities reaching everyone) — councillors also voted 7-0 to amend the municipality’s fees and rates bylaw to include the income scale that will govern the discount.
“This is a program that I think leaves a legacy behind as we are exiting the mandate of this particular council,” said Coun. Murtaza Jamaly, who previously said the program is about youth and family engagement, increased health and even crime reduction. “I think this is a proud moment for this council.”
To access the program, which councillors first reviewed at their Aug. 23 committee of the whole meeting, residents will be income tested similar to other FCSS programs like Tools for School and Santa’s Anonymous. As an example, a single person who earns less than $20,220 annually will be eligible for the 50 per cent fee reduction, while someone who made $20,221 to $26,426 will qualify for the 25 per cent discount. Meanwhile a family of four will need to bring home less than $36,325 a year to qualify for the 50 per cent discount and between $36,326 and $49,106 to receive the 25 per cent reduction.
During her August presentation, FCSS director Tracy Proulx told councillors that during their research they found that the majority of communities in the province offer similar income-tested, fee-reduction programs. For context, a one-year membership to RSC for an adult is $495, while a 12-month adult membership to the Westlock Aquatic Centre currently sits at $456.45. Meanwhile, a one-year family pass to the RSC is $1,140.85 and a one-year family pass to the pool is $1,050.95.
Jamaly noted that at a recent FCSS meeting, councillors from Westlock County and the Village of Clyde also expressed interest in getting on board.
“And I think that’s a great start. I don’t want to hold our municipal partners to it, but there was interest to grow this for the region, not just for this municipality. And they see it exactly the same way as we do,” said Jamaly. “This isn’t about a transfer, this is about individuals that are paying for these recreation amenities through their taxes and just can’t make that last bit to be able to access them.”
Ultimately the town will keep a close eye on the program to see how it’s working and then tweak if necessary. Previously, Proulx and Murphy made note of the fact that the people who are being targeted aren’t currently using the facilities — Proulx said they view the program as “an income generator” and not a discount because “we know these people aren’t coming through your doors right now.”
“I hope we’ll be able to track all of this and get a report back to council so we can see ongoing how many people are using it, is it an effective tool or do we need to look at it again,” said Coun. Randy Wold.
“I think that’s a real good comment because we know what the intent is and if this doesn’t capture it then we can try again,” added mayor Ralph Leriger, noting talk of the program began during last year’s budget discussions.