City altering how patrons pay at water park

The City of Yorkton will be implementing a new way to pay for using the Access Communication Water Park.

Monday, at its regular meeting Yorkton Council approved a recommendation by City Administration to permanently discontinue all time-based pass system for all programs at the Access Water Park, in favour of a pay-per-use system which includes the sale of a variety of punch/bulk pass options, effective March 1, 2021.

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The move to change how patrons are charged resulted from current COVID-19 restrictions limiting pool usage and creating issues for some to access programs that they wanted, in particular aquasize, explained Darcy McLeod - Director of Community Development, Parks and Recreation, with the City.

"Recreational programs and services were severely impacted by COVID-19 almost a year ago, starting with the closure of recreation facilities on March 17, 2020, followed by a slow and incremental opening up of programs and services as the year progressed," he told Council.

The Water Park reopened on September 1, 2020 under new restrictions set by the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, which resulted in changes made to program and service delivery.

Current Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan restrictions and guidelines include:
*A capacity of eight persons for fitness programs, including aquasize and lane swimming.
*A capacity of eight persons for organized sport training, including speed and synchronized swimming. *Contact tracing for all attendees.
*Enhanced cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.

The issue is also a budgetary one, explained McLeod, who noted in the 2021 Operating Budget process Council Directed Administration to reduce programming at the pool.

This direction was based on three primary factors:
*The provincial restrictions and guidelines in place for pool operations.
*That the Water Park provides recreational activities essential for mental and physical well being.
*The budget impact on the Gallagher Centre related to COVID-19 and the need to provide recreation programs and services that generate adequate revenue to minimize the negative impact to the operating budget.

"A review of programming took place in order to provide Council with options to determine the level of service required at the Access Water Park," said McLeod.

The options were developed to:
*Obtain budget direction from Council,
*Meet the requirements of the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, and
*Ensure a basic level of recreation services are available to the public to contribute to the mental and physical well-being of our community.

"These changes impacted programming for every aspect of the Access Water Park, however some programs were impacted more than others. As a result, access to these programs became limited due to reduced availability of program times," said McLeod.

An example is that prior to the pandemic, 18 Aquasize sessions (1 hr each) were offered each week, which could accommodate 25 or more participants for a total of 450 individual opportunities. Under the current model supporting the budget direction and to meet the COVID-19 restrictions, there are 21 sessions (1 hr each) per week, which could accommodate eight participants, for a total of 168 individual opportunities. During Covid, there has been approximately 40 different people accessing the Aquasize programs, which could ideally result in four visits per week per person. Although the total number of individual opportunities is less than pre-Covid, the total amount of sessions has been increased to try to offset the restrictions., detailed McLeod's report to Council.

"This reduction in available individual opportunities has created stress for people trying to access the Aquasize program. People are not able to access programs in the times that they are used to, or their desired timeslot is full. The City can’t increase the number of participants per session until permitted to through the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, and the established budget won’t accommodate increased sessions, without recovering costs," he said.

How people book and pay are not helping the situation, added McLeod.

"The current time-based pass system has shown that it is difficult to ensure access to as many people as possible, while trying to obtain revenue required to sustain programs. An access inequity is created when a time-based pass holder doesn’t show up to a registered program. This impacts the City’s ability to generate revenue required to run the program as it does not cost the pass holder anything, but limits the City’s ability to sell that program spot and allow another person access to the program. Currently, there are three different ways people can pay for access to aquatic programs," he said.

"Of the current 300 memberships and passes in the system, 177 are punch pass holders and 123 are time-based memberships. Further, 61 time based passes remain frozen as the customer has not indicated that they are ready to return to programming during the pandemic, leaving 62 active time-based memberships. 21 of those memberships are annual memberships, and 41 are monthly memberships."

So the change was recommended.

"Shifting the structure of passes and memberships to punch pass options only will provide the City with increased opportunity to generate revenue. This will also ensure that every program offered is provided with adequate revenue to operate the program. This also addresses the issue of ghost registrations by time-based pass holders, and provides equitable access to programs and ensures revenue is generated with every registration," said McLeod.

The public will still be able to see savings when they purchase a punch/bulk pass as the more you buy the less expensive they become. This pass style matches other existing programs offered by the City in other facilities such as drop in sports and walking track passes, he added.

People will be able to register online, in-person and over the phone, and a maximum of three days would be established to minimize unfair advantages to advance bookings.

Existing time-based pass holders will be permitted to ride out the remaining duration of the pass before being required to purchase the punch/bulk pass.

​​​​​​Any pass currently frozen or suspended due to the pandemic, will also be able to use it once the suspension is lifted.

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