Swim levy proposal abandoned

By Erika Venter

The Stratford District Council has backed off plans to levy a lane hire fee at the TSB pool in Stratford, following hearings last week on its annual plan.

Out of 180 submissions received on the plan submitted to the public, 150 were from pool users arguing against the fee.

Stratford mayor Neil Volzke says, "Council responded to that and changed the proposal. Information supplied indicated that the charges proposed would put the cost of swimming out of reach for the high-use swimmers."

The proposal was to charge user groups, including private tutors, a lane hire fee of $10.50 per lane per hour. Instead, it was voted that structured swimmers be charged $3 per entry (50c more than on a concession card).

The council's intention was to increase income from the pool for it to decrease its subsidy of the pool.

Neil says this can still be achieved through increasing the number of pool users and by increasing the charge to primary school children to $1.50.

"This fee has been $1 per child for more than a decade. The Flyers and swimming club felt that they have been singled out to carry the brunt of the increases. It was not the case but that was how it appeared. The $1.50 is still nearly half the price of our nearest neighbours."

Not all councillors were happy with the 50 per cent increase with the vote five to four, and support for the initial proposal that it be kept at $1.

Aimee Woodhead, from the Flyers Swim School, says the changes will give trainers fair access to offer their services so that it will benefit everybody.

"It lifts patronage (increasing revenue) and will support the growth of the sport so even more of the community will come to love aquatics. People want to be involved with swimming on many levels, whether it is recreational, club, aquatots, adult tri squads or LTS, the pool is a warm place in the cold winter months to become healthy, fitter, and just have fun. I am sure we will see our Flyers swimmers reward the council by being the best they can be as they compete nationally and internationally in the coming years."

The news was also welcomed by the Stratford Swimming Club who delivered a very fiery submission at the hearing.

"The increase to the entry fee is in line with what we proposed to the council (we proposed $3.20), which brings us in line with other pools in the region however we would like clarification of the concession charges. We are relieved that we can continue to provide an affordable swimming service to the community," says president Diane Cooper.

On other issues heard on the day, Neil says council staff are investigating the request for better and more accessible toilets at Whangamomona, and that he will initiate discussion on councils in Taranaki sharing even more services at the next mayoral forum in June.

"There is potential savings to be had and we have the obligation to explore it."

He adds that shared services does not necessarily equate to amalgamation.

"The best method of delivery may be council controlled organisations or contractual arrangements or private partnerships. Amalgamation is one of the ways, but it is not the only way. It is about efficiency and skills gains."

A proposal by Federated Farmers that council have a relook at how the general user fee (UAGC) is compiled and calculated will be addressed in the council's review of its revenue and financing policy with the first workshop next week, he says, with council asking "whether the services we provide are funded from the correct source and if there are other ways to more appropriately charge for it".

The council will also have a relook at its policy on oil and gas exploration in its district plan review given the increase in activity in the Stratford area.

"We need to ask ourselves if the rules currently in place are still appropriate and effective in 2013 and beyond, given the increase in activity. The Resource Management Act is also changing and it is appropriate to look at it as part of the review to ensure the policy is consistent with the RMA."

- Stratford Press

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