Westbrook Community Center price hike put on hold

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WESTBROOK — A proposed hefty rate hike for memberships at the Westbrook Community Center stalled this week when city councilors decided they wanted to first hear from a mayoral committee charged with reviewing community center operations.

Acting Director of Community Service Greg Post said the proposed rate increase is needed because some program offerings are not covering their operating costs. The goal has always been for the community center’s programming to be self-funded and not rely on property taxes, he said.  Increasing the rates would help in that regard and help cover the cost of programming.

Post said he looked at the costs and programming of other nearby gyms and community center facilities before recommending that adult (16 and up) memberships go up $96 to $480 a year and senior citizen (60 and up) memberships go up $48 to $240 per year.

Under Post’s proposal, flex memberships, which allow for up to 16 visits a year, would cost $96 for adults and $48 for senior citizens, up from $72 and $36, respectively. Drop-in rates would increase from $3 to $4 per visit for those 15 and younger and seniors, and from $6 to $8 per visit for adults.

City employees would no longer receive complimentary memberships, but rather pay a $4 drop-in fee. The council asked Post to consider offering city employees a yearly membership for $240 or flex passes for $48.

Post said this would be the third increase in the last eight years and first since January 2017.

The council decided 5-2, with Councilors Lynda Adams and Victor Chau opposed, to table a decision on the rate increase until a committee formed by the mayor to evaluate the community center operations and programming comes back with its recommendation. It is not known when the committee, formed over the summer, would have that report ready.

City Councilor Brendan Rielly said he would like that report in hand before the council discusses the rate increase again. Council President Gary Rairdon agreed, saying that would allow the council to “see if this is in line” with what the committee proposes.

Yearly memberships at the center cover 17 fitness and aquatics programs, including lap swimming, family swim, open gym, pilates, liquid tone, core splash, pickleball, train your inner athlete, spinning, yoga and cardio classes.

Post told councilors most recreation departments in the area don’t offer yearly memberships, but rather charge drop-in rates of between $5 and $12. 

“We are still less than you’ll find at community centers or community center-like facilities in the area and, certainly from a programming and instruction standpoint, we are more affordable than most gyms,” Post told the American Journal last week.”There is always pushback, but we do the best we can to look at our programming and assess it on an on-going basis and make decision based on our costs.”

Adams appreciated the comparison and supported an increase.

“It is important we remain competitive because we offer really good service in that building, especially with our indoor pool,” she said.

“I don’t think it is a significant amount. I think it was well-needed,” she said of the increase.

This is the first time community center membership rates have come before the City Council. Increases have previously been handled through the department’s budget process. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said because councilors approve  other fees in the city, it makes sense they would do the same for community center membership fees.

Chau said he supported the rate increase because he wanted to see the community center develop a reserve fund.

“You had mentioned break-even as your goal, but I am a big fan of piggy banks. I would like to see you start getting a piggy bank so you can replace equipment. I don’t want you to break even. I want you to have money in reserve to pay for things,” he said.

The council’s action does not impact a change in programming for the New Year. Some of the under-performing programs, based on attendance, have been removed and several new programs have been added.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

A proposal to increase membership costs residents pay for fitness and aqautic programming at Westbrook Community Center has been put on hold in order for the city council to get more information.

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