By Greg Price
Low-income families may see some relief for their recreation costs if a unanimous recommendation is followed through with from the Taber Recreation Board.
A fee-assistance program is being considered, mirroring other communities that have been explored over the concept.
“Within our department, we have been approached on several occasions by different groups, more specifically, our special needs groups and sometimes our seniors asking for a fee-assistance program in town,” said Dawn Phillips, director of recreation for the Town of Taber in opening discussion on the issue at the Taber Recreation Board’s Dec. 5 meeting. “Doing some research, I looked into a few different communities to see what they were doing, and several communities had some sort of assistance in place where if a family qualifies as a low-income family, they can access recreation facilities as a discount.”
Strathcona County does free admission for any drop-in program according to Phillips, with others being 50 to 75 per cent off. Other communities do percentage discounts or offer a certain amount of drop ins being free. Some give a $200 yearly credit to be used in any way the family in need sees fit.
“There are many different systems out there. Researching this and talking to our staff to see what would work with the Town of Taber, what I’m presenting is to offer a 50 per cent off for families who are low income who live in the Town of Taber,” said Phillips.
Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has been approached to screen individuals to see if they would meet the thresholds that would qualify them for the discount program, delving into their tax returns, so the town wouldn’t have to.
“We don’t want to be looking into their taxes to determine who is low income,” said Phillips, adding FCSS has a tax program for low-income families already in place. “They would work with us and the families within this threshold if approved, they would then refer the people to the Town of Taber with a letter and we would set them up in our system. We don’t want our staff to be in the position to look at people’s income. In our policy, we make every effort to maintain confidentiality.”
Thresholds that are being considered for 2019 income are families with one person ($35,000), two people ($45,000), three people ($47,500), four people ($50,000), five people ($52,500), more than five people ($52,500 plus $2,500 for each additional individual.
“Our theory with this is we would actually make more money because these people are not using our facilities in the first place as low-income families. They aren’t registering for swim lessons for $46. They just aren’t doing it, we aren’t seeing them in our facilities,” said Phillips. “In keeping youth active and in positive activities, these are things that can happen in our department that can have a positive effect. There are other programs we are going to try and go for and make people aware of as well like KidSport and Jump Start. But this is a way for kids to come to public swimming and pay half price. We will get more people using our various programs. The staff is already there and the programs are already running.”
Town councillor and recreation board member Garth Bekkering inquired if the program could be expanded to M.D. of Taber residents as well you use Town of Taber recreational facilities.
“I had left it at the town for now looking at our taxes and stuff like that, but knowing of M.D. contributions, I wasn’t sure where we wanted to go with that,” said Phillips. “This was just an initial presentation for your input and we can make changes to council. It’s definitely an option.”
Taber recreation board chairman Danielle Hansen inquired about how closely the program would be monitored, noting she has seen programs like KidSport being abused in the past.
“There’s been families that have used KidSport, where it’s been covered and has gone on not to use it,” said Hansen. “They wouldn’t show up for classes and things like that. Now KidSport, they are only doing 50 per cent too, they aren’t doing 100 per cent.”
Phillips noted that is why town staff recommended the 50 per cent option, because it still requires some buy-in from the family in question to ensure they will use the recreational service.
“If we’ve secured their spots, they are more likely to use it, and if not, and they don’t show up, we at least get that revenue,” said Phillips. “Some communities do $200 to $300 a year in credit, but they still require at least 20 per cent of the program cost down.”
Town councillor and recreation board member Louie Tams put forth an amended motion that the board recommend to the town council that it approves the proposed Fee Assistance Program PS-REC-13, which includes both Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber residents in its family income thresholds for qualification as noted.
The 50 per cent discount for those qualified would apply to town drop-in programs and registered programs offered at the Taber Community Centre and Aquafun Centre.