by Colin Smith
The physical and mental health of some town residents could be put at risk by a move to shorter hours at the Morinville Leisure Centre.
That’s the belief of resident Kait Palmer, who has started a campaign, including an online petition to oppose a planned reduction in hours at the centre.
In accordance with Morinville’s 2023 operating budget, passed December 6, the MLC will no longer be open from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. during the summer months.
From May 1 to the third Monday in August, operating hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the dates based on when ice surface is available at the facility.
Together with the closure of the MLC on all statutory holidays during the winter months and on Sundays and statutory holidays in the summer, the reduction in hours is expected to save the town about $300,000 this year.
Palmer argues that the hours being cut are the only time many Morinville residents are able to use the centre.
“As a single parent, the only time I can utilize the facility is before work during the 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. timeslot, five to six days per week,” she said in an email interview. “I am joined by the same faces who frequent the gym, the same moms, dads and other residents.”
She says her goal is to highlight the importance of the centre for the community and residents’ ability to maintain their physical and mental health.
“Morinville families continue to struggle to find balance and healthy options in their lives,” stated Palmer.
“On the heels of a pandemic, with groceries, fuel and the cost of living on the rise, so too is stress, anxiety and depression. Mental health has never been as important as it is today and cutting the hours of service at the leisure centre is yet another uppercut to a community that is already feeling defeated.”
Palmer hopes users will sign the Change.org petition to “Keep the MLC early morning hours” she started on January 17.
“At such a difficult time for everyone, our leaders should be putting social supports in place, not cutting them back,” she said.
Mayor Simon Boersma, Councillor Maurice St. Denis and Chief Administrative Officer Naleen Narayan met with Palmer late last week at Town Hall to explain the reasoning behind the cutback in hours.
“I personally do think it always easier to sit down with residents and go through the process of why, when, and where, when it comes to decision making,” Boersma said in an email to Morinville News. “None of these impacts of change are easy and are usually made based on previous years’ of actions.”
Boersma said the move resulted from the need for budget restraint to ensure affordability for residents, while building reserves to maintain the community’s long-term stability.
“When deliberating budgets this council has looked much further than cutting specific programs from a certain segment of the community,” he said. “This budget has affected all residents in all departments of our town.”
He noted that was what administration was tasked with and did come back with cost-saving measures involving all the town’s operations and that included the MLC and the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
“Council voted on a final budget that least impacted all the town’s residents,” Boersma stated. “The town reorganized each operation to meet the current budget with all the restraints.”
The mayor added that council will be looking into the budget throughout the year and welcomes resident feedback as it works on development of the 2024 budget.
The Change.org petition had 78 signatures as of Monday morning.