Servicing levels an issue for recreation in Ponoka

After reviewing a proposal to increase Ponoka’s recreation fees by five per cent, council has decided to seek input before passing

After reviewing a proposal to increase Ponoka’s recreation fees by five per cent, council has decided to seek input before passing the raise.

The decision was tabled Jan. 14 during the regular council meeting upon a request from Coun. Carla Prediger to give users a chance to provide feedback. “We talk and we’ve got some ideas and stuff but we haven’t time, ” Coun. Prediger said.

Mayor Rick Bonnett agreed. He referred to a letter from the Ponoka Minor Hockey Association (PMHA) stating concerns over service levels. “If we’re going to provide and improve servicing and we are going to charge more, this letter kind of says we’ve gotta do some homework there.”

The letter from PMHA states concerns over the number of staff that work at the arena and having to deal with busy times.

“With busy weekends of hockey on both surfaces, it is a lot to ask one rink attendant (equipment operator) to deal with. Asking parents that are around the arena to give a willing hand is not always a bad idea, but who is responsible if one of these volunteers is hurt while helping out?” the letter continued.

On the Dec. 22 weekend, the letter says, there were issues with some rooms not being ready for teams. It appears the rink attendants were receiving schedules that were a couple of weeks old.

The issue of not enough staff occurred when an equipment operator had to manage rooms and preparing the ice surface. “The timing of the two rinks caused the rink attendant (equipment operator) no time to empty the Zamboni before cleaning the small ice.”

The machine became clogged and left piles of snow on the ice surface but parents stepped in to help remove the snow. The letter expressed concerns over seeing little assistance given to the equipment operator.

“PMHA is a representative of the Town of Ponoka and when visiting teams are complaining about the cleanliness of our facilities, it can be an embarrassing conversation for many,” the letter states.

Wes Amendt, director of community services, told councillors that one operator has just retired and they are having trouble keeping attendants. He has advertised the need for a seasonal equipment operator in the Ponoka News but said that has not brought many applications.

In an interview, Amendt did say he is trying to address the staffing issues as the workload for one operator can become heavy. “Right now, with the staffing level that I have, we have one operator who works on the weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then the other guys comes on and works 4 p.m. to midnight.”

“If I can find or hire a rink attendant, he would be that second person on the shift. That’s been the difficulty,” explained Amendt.

He said in a normal situation on weekends and evenings, there would be a rink attendant to help equipment operators. Equipment operators and rink attendants deal with two indoor rinks and the Scott Seaman’s Outdoor Rink as well.

Amendt feels the rink attendant position would be an ideal part time job for a high school student and has advertised in Ponoka high schools, on Kijiji and the employment centre.

“There’s other options for kids and sometimes janitorial work is not the most glorious job,” offered Amendt.

One equipment operator recently left his position to work in the oil patch as he was not getting enough money, he added.

“I’m sure that’s a challenge for many businesses in town,” said Amendt.

The town is working on wage comparisons with other municipalities and wage negotiations with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is soon to begin. Amendt feels it is council’s decision to set the salary wages.

“I’ve got a budget for staff, but I can’t find them or they won’t stay,” he added.

There has been some discussion to hire a full time employee for the Town of Ponoka who will work in different departments. Amendt feels there is merit to one person switching between different departments to ease the staffing burden.

Amendt was to meet with PMHA to discuss their concerns over staffing levels.

Too hot for outdoor rink

Plus zero temperatures have melted away the ice at the outdoor rink, which had to be closed over the weekend due to safety concerns. The ice was becoming too thin and cement was starting to show. Staff at the arena were working on flooding the rink in preparation for the middle to end of the week.