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EDITORIAL: Pool price shortsighted

"Our St. Albert is not the kind of community to let the well-being of many of its residents sink so a select privileged few can swim."
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If ever there was a time for St. Albert to dive into funding set aside specifically for the city’s economic and social recovery, this is it.

The city stirred up a hornet’s nest of disgruntled parents and residents last week when it announced it was reopening Fountain Park Pool and household swims were back on – at an hourly rate of $175 for up to 10 people from the same household.

It was a long-awaited announcement for residents who have been chomping at the bit to get back to some semblance of normalcy and enjoy a taxpayer-funded facility, but the excitement over the pool’s reopening has been understandably drenched by the sticker shock of the price tag. That’s a debilitating cost for families used to paying $17 for members of the same household to take a dip. It’s laughably out of reach for seniors, who are used to paying $5.75 apiece.

How woefully short-sighted, and arguably elitist, for this city to open its taxpayer-funded pool doors for a premium price. Families the world over are facing unprecedented financial and health challenges. In St. Albert, city council was one of the first in the province to recognize people and businesses were going to need more than provincial and federal supports to get by. That’s the whole reason why they struck the Recovery Task Force, which has a mandate to support St. Albert’s economic and social resiliency, and why they established a COVID-19 recovery fund. City chief administrative officer Kevin Scoble has direct access to $1 million under that fund to cover COVID-19-related expenses, including costs for organizational, community and business supports.

The time to use that fund is now. Coun. Ken MacKay has a motion to subsidize the costs of Fountain Park through that recovery fund, with the goal of getting the hourly cost of using Fountain Park down below $100. That would at least put us closer to the cost of other municipalities.

Anyone who has paid attention to facility costs in the past knows pools are not money-makers. Trying to recover costs by nickel-and-diming residents in the middle of a pandemic is bad business. Although Mayor Cathy Heron again declined an interview with the Gazette in favour of posting on Facebook, she admitted to commenters on her social media page that the city has always subsidized operations of Fountain Park Pool.  

Kudos to MacKay for pushing administration for a proper breakdown of the pool’s operating costs – figures all taxpayers should have access to. We also applaud his efforts to bring the issue to council’s doorstep with his motion to subsidize the pool’s costs. But with $1 million at administration’s fingertips, the city could do one better and revise its cost structure immediately.

Our St. Albert is not the kind of community to let the well-being of many of its residents sink so a select privileged few can swim.