WESTLOCK - It may cost a little bit more to use the pool and Rotary Spirit Centre in 2022 following a revamped fee and rate bylaw from the Town of Westlock’s Community Services Department that proposes the first increase to rates in more than half a decade.
At town council’s Aug. 23 committee of the whole meeting, community services director Gerry Murphy outlined the new fees which cover everything from booking a meeting room at the RSC, to purchasing rink-board advertising in the arena, renting the ice at the curling rink, or using the aquatic centre for a birthday party. Fees for camping at Mountie Park, to buying the naming rights to the fieldhouse ($150,000 for five years for a business) are also covered in the 19-page document.
While councillors viewed the proposal as part of the rec assistance program (reported on in the Aug. 31 edition) any changes to fees won’t be passed until after the municipal election Oct. 18 — councillors voted 7-0 to include the document in the 2022 budget process.
Broadly speaking, Murphy said they’re proposing a three per cent bump across the board, although many fees, including the yearly rates for RSC memberships, remain static. Murphy said rates have been frozen since 2015, noting a 2017 request for decision from admin to council to raise fees that did not pass.
In a follow-up interview, CAO Simone Wiley said they need to be reviewing fees and rates at least every five years to ensure they’re in line with other communities.
“Let’s face it and I’ll use the Spirit Centre as an example, we are competing with neigbouring municipalities for use of that facility,” she said.
Under the proposal, it would cost $.05 more for a youth ($4 for kids, $5.50 for teens ages 13-17) to access the pool for an afternoon, while an adult would have to pony up $.70 more ($8 in total) and a senior would have to chip in $.75 extra ($6.20). At the RSC, drop-in fees would rise by $.10 for children ($4.05), $.20 for youth and seniors ($6.30) and $.25 for adults ($8.10).
“For the pool especially, if we’re to apply that rate (three per cent) Westlock rates and fees would still be the lowest in the region and in some cases by a large margin,” said Murphy. “To a lesser degree the Spirit Centre would also remain the lowest in the region.”
Murphy also noted that a small increase is necessary in an effort to “tip the scale slightly” to more of a user-pay model. He also went on to tell council that the fee structure has been streamlined as “we cut out a whole bunch of types of rates and tried to consolidate them into the ones that are being used the most often.”
“Where we’re in the ballpark already (versus other communities) we’re proposing no change. And where we are significantly behind we’re proposing the three per cent. For example a family rate drop-in pass is $18.20. We’re proposing an increase up to $18.75,” he said. “So the increases are nominal. But at the same time it’s been so long since there’s been any increase that we’re looking to push the needle somewhat so that down the road future administrations and councils for that matter aren’t faced with large increases.”
Mayor Ralph Leriger said he’d eventually like to see how much the town is recovering via rates and fees versus the overall cost of operating the facilities.
“How the heck do you come up with the number in COVID times … we just don't have that ability. But when normal returns it will be interesting to see what we’re recovering as far as user fees and see how we compare to our contemporaries,” said Leriger. “It’s going to take some time because any data we get now would be so skewed by anomalies that it wouldn’t be meaningful.”
Added Murphy: “As for any comparisons we’re doing now we exclude 2020.”