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Senior citizen is exercised over health club fee

Q: In 1969, I joined a health spa that was on Niagara Falls Boulevard and understood that my yearly renewal would cost $10.

I no longer have my original contract, and after a while, the health club (now Bally Total Fitness) kept raising my dues every year. Last year, the renewal was $73.86, and this year, it costs $89.36. I received a bill for the latter amount that was due Dec. 8 to renew for another year.

Their records indicate that my enrollment date was 1984, but I have been a member since 1969. The club changed ownership in that time period. I believe my yearly renewal should not exceed $10.

As a senior citizen living on a fixed income, I cannot afford it and have had some medical difficulties, but still like to go to the club once a week to use the whirlpool and sauna at the club's West Seneca location.

Please help me.

-- Edward J. Kopias, Cheektowaga.

A: This is a sticky-wicket, unfortunately.

We contacted Chicago-based Bally on your behalf and after a representative researched your complaint, the fitness company still held firm.

Without a record of the actual contract terms, there's little more we can do. Moreover, Bally spokesman Matt Messinger insisted to us that your fitness club membership is clearly subject to a 10 percent annual increase. He broke it down, noting that it was $73.86 two years ago; then increasing to $81.24 and now $89.36 heading into 2007.

"If he wants to pay on a monthly basis to make it easier, we'd be willing to do that," Messinger said.

If you opted to do that, it would average out to about $7.45 a month.

Messinger pointed out that traditionally, Bally's yearly senior citizen membership is around $150 a year. "His $89.36 is still well below that," he said. "We do raise the rates yearly, as most health clubs do."

"If he uses it a couple of times a week, it would be about $1 each time to go," he said. "It's a fair price for the service he is receiving. We're happy to help him change his payment arrangements."

Messinger said that you are paid only through the end of this year.

It was difficult to get Bally to budge, especially when you no longer have your 37-year-old contract to review the terms -- and where the original health club changed ownership.

But on Dec. 5, the next day after our interview with Bally, you told us you'd received a card from Bally dated Nov. 20 which said your membership had been extended through December 2007. There was no reference indicating you owed any renewal fee.

We subsequently tried calling Messinger and explained the latest wrinkle. He assured us he'd look into it, but we have not heard back from him after leaving several messages.

So, it seems like it's Happy Exercising!

Have a consumer problem? Send a letter summarizing your problem to News Power, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240. Attention: Karen Robinson. Or e-mail: newspower@buffnews.com

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