By Trevor Busch
Complaints about the Town of Taber’s registration procedures for swimming classes at the Aquafun Centre have continued unabated for another year.
During registration on Sept. 20 at the Community Centre Auditorium, according to some, many parents made complaints about long line-ups for registration, prompting some to bring it to the attention of town council.
At their Sept. 22 meeting, town council questioned administration about the issue and asked if there were any potential solutions under consideration, such as the implementation of an online registration service in future.
“I understand we had some people that were upset Saturday morning (Sept. 20) again,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “This seems to be an ongoing situation that needs to be rectified. I thought at one of our previous meetings that this was rectified, but it seems to be an ongoing situation. We need to have some solutions here tonight so that it doesn’t happen again.”
CAO Greg Birch admitted that swimming registrations were not operated as efficiently as might have been expected by the public.
“It wasn’t a smooth operation on Saturday (Sept. 20), and we have heard complaints,” said Birch. “We did smooth out some of the issues from the past, but it seems that there were long line-ups related to the amount of time it took to register. Part of that might have been because the previous times you could register three or four families, and we decided that’s not really fair. There’s also a concern that numbers are still being affected by (a shutdown last fall). All that said, we didn’t do a good job.”
According to administration, 148 people registered for swim lessons, with 72 per cent of the spots filled on Sept. 20. Strojwas inquired if an online registration system using credit card payment for swimming lessons could help alleviate the problem.
“I think an online program would help. The biggest frustration I sense is people standing in line for a lengthy period of time,” said director of community services Rob Cressman. “If we’re able to implement an online program that allows for electronic payment of the program as they do the registration, then certainly that would no longer require a line-up to occur for the start of registration. We don’t currently have that capacity in our system. We don’t have that module that allows for the online registration.”
Strojwas’ tone expressed some frustration with this response from Cressman.
“So what is holding us up from getting that module, and getting the credit card? Why can we not move forward? Be specific.”
Cressman indicated a desire to remain professionally detached when providing responses to council on contentious issues.
“I’d rather not be confrontational with council about this topic. I understand that people are frustrated, but with all due respect, we’ll do our very best as we always do to try answer your questions and provide you with information. So to be specific, it would require a financial commitment by the town to purchase and implement the module, and some time to evaluate and assess how we could accommodate VISA payments or electronic payments.”
Strojwas pushed for immediate action on the issue to implement an online pay system for registrants.
“If we need to buy that module to accept credit cards, then we should do that. As a council we need to move forward on this, this is ridiculous. People buy stuff online all the time. We need to move forward.”
Recreation manager Aline Holmen pointed out that due to upcoming changes with regard to industry standards for municipal registration software, buying the credit card module for the town’s existing software would not be fiscally responsible at this time.
“At this point in time it wouldn’t be prudent for us to buy the credit card module, because within the next year, it’s gone, the module that we have. That’s money probably not well spent. And they don’t do debit card anyways, they only do credit card. We do know of a few others that are out there, and it will be interesting to see which one will dominate with the municipalities. At this point in time I think we just need to investigate some options.”
Director of corporate services, Dale Culler, expressed concerns with implementing a credit card pay system at the town across the board, as this could potentially have a significant financial impact on the town’s revenues if citizens were able to pay their property taxes and utility bills via credit card. According to Culler, of $24 million in town receipts last year, 1.3 per cent were paid by cash, 56.4 per cent by cheque, and 42.3 per cent by debit.
Mayor Henk DeVlieger admitted he had born the brunt of a frustrated public himself on Sept. 20.
“I went by there myself on Saturday, I was told by somebody to go there. So I drove by just a little after 8 a.m. I opened the window just to show attention, and I got kind of yelled at. I guess if you’ve been standing there since 5 a.m., you get kind of frustrated. I drove by a few other times just to see how the line was moving, and then I found out that a lot of people just left.”
Holmen asserted that line ups were nothing new with regard to swimming registration.
“I’ve been there for 14 years, and for 14 years, that line-up has been there. We’ve tried different things, different ways to do it. We’ve talked to at least 50 different municipalities looking for different things, and different ways to make it better.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz noted some residents have resorted to registering their children in Lethbridge.
“After these events, I’ve heard and seen a lot of feedback. A lot of people in the town are very frustrated. A lot have opted out of going into swim lessons, so we have seven to 12 year old kids that don’t know how to swim in our community. We also have a lot of kids going to Lethbridge now, because it’s just too much of a hassle.”
Coun. Jack Brewin echoed Popadynetz’s remarks.
“I know of numerous people that turned away when they saw the line-up. I also know probably a lot more that didn’t bother because they knew there was going to be a line-up. At 148, we probably lost a lot of people I wish we could have serviced at the swimming pool. We definitely need to make some improvements. It’s a beautiful facility, and it’s a shame that we don’t capitalize on it. From what I’ve heard, people just don’t bother going anymore. It’s easier to go to Lethbridge.”
Coun. Randy Sparks pooh-poohed any suggestion that the town was experiencing an exodus of swimmers from lessons because of lengthy line-ups.
“At times, I get a little bit frustrated when I hear this garbage about going to Lethbridge and stuff all the time. If I want something bad enough, I’m going to make sure that I get it. I’m not just going to give up on a Saturday, I’m going to come back and check if there’s a group open for my child. I’m not going to give up because of a line up. If I want something bad enough, I’ll come back. If there’s openings, why aren’t people coming back? Instead of just saying I’m going to Lethbridge because that line’s too long. People stand in line for four hours for an iPhone 6, but they won’t stand in line for their kid’s swimming lessons? Give me a break.”
Council voted unanimously to direct administration to come back in four weeks with information on online registration options, and to come back in two weeks to detail credit card payment options specific to the Aquafun Centre.