St. Albert residents will get the first crack at registering for swimming lessons in the future.
Council voted 4-3 to make the change.
Coun. Cathy Heron proposed the motion to give St. Albert residents and annual Servus Place pass holders a chance to register for swimming lessons one week prior to general registration.
Numbers presented in a report about the demand and waitlists for aquatics programming noted that in the spring 2016 session 41 per cent of registrants were not St. Albert residents.
Heron called herself a “huge cheerleader” for regional co-operation when making the motion. She said the move would allow residents a small advantage versus barring non-residents completely or making lessons more expensive for them.
“Our doors are still open,” Heron said, noting residents help subsidize the pools through their taxes.
Heron’s motion was supported by Coun. Sheena Hughes, Coun. Cam MacKay and Coun. Bob Russell.
Other capital region communities surveyed by city staff do not have early registration for non-residents, nor do they charge additional fees or cap spaces for non-residents. Fort Saskatchewan actually voted against a similar move in recent week, in part worrying about regional precedence.
The other municipalities surveyed noted they are also experiencing high demand for swimming lessons and facing waitlists.
MacKay said he thinks that maybe there should be a resident versus non-resident pricing scheme and supported the pre-registration change.
“I guarantee there are communities in the world that do this and I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” he said.
The mayor and Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Tim Osborne were against the move.
Mayor Nolan Crouse worried about regional repercussions.
“This is a bigger deal than just a simple motion. I think it’s a significant motion here,” he said.
Brodhead called the move a slippery slope, while Osborne wanted to give pool scheduling changes council had just said yes to, a chance to work.
Prior to voting yes to advance registration for residents, staff presented a report on the issues around waitlists and demands for swimming lessons. That included suggestions on scheduling changes to open up 389 more spots in preschool and the first two levels of the city’s swimmer programs.
The staff report noted that those programs combined are the most popular and often have an annual waitlist of more than 1,000 people.
While not every swimming program gets filled up, there are times and programs that face more demand, resulting in waitlists.
In addition to the swimming lesson waitlists, council has also been receiving comments from adults about the need for more public or seniors swim time and space. The Sailfish Swim Club also tried to get more room earlier this year.
“I have to admit that the severity of water space, aquatic space, wasn’t something I was quite tuned into as much as I should have been,” Crouse said.
Hughes noted that there hasn’t been an organized campaign, but individual residents trying to reach out about the issue.
The staff presentation by Kelly McConnell, the associate director for recreation facilities, noted some potential complications with differentiating between residents and non-residents.
Acting city manager Chris Jardine said in an email that staff will be aiming to introduce the new measure for fall registration.
He said staff will be working with people who are already part of the city’s registration records to make sure their residence is validated and ready to register when that one-week advance period opens up. People who aren’t already in the system with an account will need to either register in person or by phone and provide their address.
Jardine said for those who either call in or don’t provide ID staff will work to confirm residency through cross-reference in the city databases.
Setting up an account in advance of the registration date will help save time, Jardine said.