Board Wants Seniors Free At Rec Center, Colonial
Citing concerns that recently approved fees for the new recreation facilities will price out the elderly, the city’s Senior Services Board on Jan. 14 decided to recommend that West University Place continue a longstanding policy that allows free access for seniors.
The board voted 11-2 to recommend the city council revise the fee schedules for the West U. Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool to indicate that residents 65 and older can use the facilities for free. Board Members Joan Johnson and Cathy Wright voted against the recommendation.
“We are on fixed incomes, and we are single-income families,” said West U. resident Kathy Sweeney, who also spoke about the issue at the Jan. 11 city council meeting. “I think the impact on the city is not so great it would disallow us to be free, or an extremely reduced rate.”
Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor said previously that 36 seniors last year took advantage of their free access to the Colonial Park fitness facilities. The number was 43 in 2008, and 39 seniors in 2007. O’Connor said that the low number wouldn’t make a significant difference to the city coffers.
Board Member Joan Johnson asked what would happen if the number of seniors using their free access rose dramatically, considering the vast improvements to the facilities.
“Does that cause any issues financially for the city?” Johnson asked.
Senior Services Manager Toby Brooks said she currently sends newsletters to 1,900 West U. residents who are 65 years or older.
“We seem to be getting more active seniors here, so yes, theoretically we could have several hundred take advantage of this offer,” O’Connor said. “That’s a pretty big footprint on the use of that facility.”
O’Connor said he had spoken with other parks directors managing large recreation facilities who did offer free access for seniors, but asked them to use the facilities during non-peak hours. The busiest times are early in the morning before people go to work, and during the early evening after work.
Board Member Cathy Wright offered two amendments to the recommendation because she wanted to provide the city council with alternatives in case it decided not to allow free access for seniors. One of the amendments would have allowed free access, but only during non-peak hours. The other amendment would have allowed seniors to pay $30 for a punch card that would allow 30 visits, available whenever the senior wanted.
“It struck me that a dollar a day to use these wonderful new facilities was not unreasonable,” Wright said.
The board rejected both amendments because it said it wanted to send a clear message to the city council that seniors should have free access, period.
“I don’t think we should supersede or taint the main recommendation to city council,” said Co-Chair John Neighbors.
“We’ll vote them out of office if we don’t like it,” joked Board Member Selby Clark about the possibility of the council rejecting the recommendation.