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Innisfail swim club faces uncertain financial future

Town council agrees to help but it’s limited; swim club vows to press on with fundraisers and another possible appeal to the town
The Innisfail Dolphins during practice at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre. The club will urgently continue fundraising now that their requests for assistance to town council to boost their financial health have not been approved. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Town council has accepted an administration recommendation to help the financially-challenged 77-year-old Innisfail Dolphins Swim Club but that support is limited to only waiving this year’s late fee penalties to the end of 2025.

In a May 13 letter sent to the Town of Innisfail, and presented to council at its meeting on May 21, the swim club requested “at minimum”, the town “donate” the pool expenses for its 2024 Swim Meet that is planned for July 27.

The club also requested a discount of 50 per cent on its pool fees throughout the 2024 season, which began May 1 and ends mid-August.

However, following a detailed report from Meghan Jenkins, community services director for the Town of Innisfail, at council’s regular meeting on May 27 a motion was passed to only give an extended break on the late fee penalties.

The town had previously agreed to waive 2023 late fee penalties to the end of 2025.

At council’s May 21 meeting serious concerns were expressed about declining registrations with the club.

Jenkins told council on May 27 the number of registered swimmers has dropped from 75 in 2018 to its current 42.

“Definitely registration numbers have gone down in that post-COVID time with respect to club expenses,” Jenkins told council.

Jenkins added the club is paying annual pool fees of about $13,000, another $3,582 to Swim Alberta, and an additional $19,500 for coach wages.

Despite council’s decision, mayor Jean Barclay, noting the club’s admirable benefit to the community for more than seven decades, said the town and council still wants to work with the club to restore financial stability.

However, the mayor said the issue behind council’s decision on May 27 was about fairness to all other user groups.

“We have to be careful setting precedents,” said Barclay. “We have waived penalty fees in the past but to completely waive the fees how do you apply fairness across all user groups in the community that are using the facility?

“It is a difficult call,” added Barclay. “I hope they will continue to try and find a solution to the problems they face.”

In the meantime, there was clear immediate disappointment from the swim club with council’s decision.

“As a small club in town we have been kind of put on the wayside, and the town is not helping us when they help other clubs,” said Erin Renard, president of the Innisfail Dolphins, in an interview with the Albertan. “Unfortunately for whatever reason, we've just been told we can pay our fees later. That's lovely. But that doesn't actually help the club's financial state.”

Renard noted the club is now generating about $25,000 in registration fees annually with total expenses double that at more than $50,000.

She emphasized her club’s essential big-ticket expenses are drastically different from many other athletic clubs, such as volunteer-led ones for minor hockey, soccer or baseball, as the Dolphins pay its coaches and have them certified and trained.

“All of these things cost money,” said Renard. “It's not on a volunteer basis to have them on deck. We have to have three coaches on deck. That's a lot of funds going out.

“On top of that the fees they (town) charge us for the pool are a bit extreme in my opinion, especially because if we weren't in there the pool would be empty.”

But Renard is adamant the club will bravely continue on, noting it has more than 90 letters sent out to businesses in and around Innisfail seeking donations.

The club is also hosting a Swim-a-thon to be held on July 10, a fundraiser that will run from 5 to 7 p.m.

She said the club is also on the “cancellation list” to host a casino, and there is hope Innisfail’s club turn for the revenue-generating event could be available next year.

She added the club may have to increase fees next year, which it already did for 2024.

“If we get to the end of this season, and we haven't obtained the fundraising that we needed to do then we're going to have to go back to council and discuss it again with them,” said Renard. “The club will still run. It's a great club. It's a really amazing community of swimmers.”


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