Free memberships to Servus Place and Fountain Park are off the table for St. Albert residents over the age of 80, but this display of fiscal prudence on the part of council doesn't have us cheering.
Councillors voted 4-3 on May 21, after brief debate, not to proceed with the idea.
The motion to offer the city's most elderly free use of St. Albert's two recreation facilities came from Coun. Jacquie Hansen and went through a fairly rigorous review process, appearing before council on three different occasions. Three city committees signed off on it: the youth advisory committee, the seniors advisory committee and the community services advisory committee.
In the end, the majority of council decided to ignore the advice of all three committees.
We have to wonder why we have these committees in place if their advice is sought and then dismissed out of hand. Mayor Cathy Heron's words during the May 21 council meeting were particularly unsettling: "I think it was great that we went to our committees, but the committees sometimes are there to represent the youth or the seniors. I feel like my job is to represent the entire community, and every time you offer something free for one group, that money needs to come from the rest of the community."
The city spends money on things that only benefit a certain amount of residents all the time. Just in December, councillors overwhelmingly approved a one-year free transit pilot for youth. Of all the things St. Albert shells out for, you'd be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who would voice opposition to free rec passes for the city's octogenarians.
Heron said she doesn't believe the cost of admission is a barrier for seniors using Servus Place. Although the city does already have a seniors discount, the annual price of membership for someone over the age of 60 still comes in at $420 – higher than the annual membership for youth or students. That's likely a strain for some seniors who are on fixed income and no longer have the ability to work.
Income level was a sticking point for Coun. Natalie Joly as well, who said she doesn't think the city should be cherry-picking one group over another. We shouldn't be limiting our encouragement to be active to one demographic, she said – youth, for example, also gain great value from being active.
But while youth and even adults typically have an easier time exercising outdoors, for instance, a slip that leaves an elderly person bruised or broken could prove fatal to someone over the age of 80. Likewise, the type of low-impact activity these free memberships would have encouraged (using the pool, for instance) would benefit older St. Albertans.
Unfortunately, council appears to have missed the mark on understanding the needs of St. Albert's various demographics. Recognizing the diminished physical ability of this older age group isn't favouritism – it is just a sensible thing to do.