Original Published on Nov 16, 2022 at 01:28
Independent service review doesn’t find favour on council, but it has silver lining
By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The city didn’t get what it wanted out of a recreation service review, but it got what it needed, according to the chair of the recreation commission.
Keith Page said an independent review on the recreation service the city shares with its regional district partners was the appropriate vehicle to drive more participation from the greater portion of Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) residents.
As the city council representative on the RDCK board, councillor Page had been part of the process for the last four years to get the terms and conditions of the service ironed out. RC Strategies handled the review and released its report late last month, passing third reading by the RDCK board of directors.
“Because if we are going to consider and aspire to have additional rural partners bring into a service like this we need to firm up the foundation and the clarity around what that service is delivering now,” he said. “That was the ambiguity that caused a lot of consternation in Area E and it kicked off this service review.”
But when it came to the city recently for approval, only a portion of the document was palatable for some in council chambers. The city still pays a lion’s share of the costs of the service — 67 per cent, while Area F pays 23 per cent and Area E 10 per cent — said city manager Kevin Cormack.
“It doesn’t deal with the sustainability of the service. I think it still needs to be resolved. We disclosed the increase in the funding to the services … it is probably our largest funded service for city residents,” he said.
The city also contributes an additional $184,000 per year as an additional contribution to recreation, Cormack said, as well as funding a number of other recreation facilities and fields.
Page didn’t dispute how much the city was paying, but he said the review — once it is approved by the province and adoption by the RDCK board — would give an expanded regional district population the parameters of what they would be paying into.
“Now you can build with the directors and show them the services and say that you can join this, we are going to be clear what we are providing here, what has a very defined box and that’s not something that is going to be nebulous and worrisome,” he said.
“It’s good work for the next term here to look at that long-term planning piece, to look at that sustainability piece, to look at how we are delivering services out there and to look for those additional efficiencies.”
The road to here
When the recreation service bylaw was established in 2003 to approve the funding of a new arena in Nelson and an upgrade of the aging aquatic centre, a referendum was based on total taxation of $1.8 million.
Nineteen years later taxation was $3.1 million — which included a reduction in debt service costs of $400,000 — equating to a budget increase of $1.7 million over time.
Inflation accounts for $850,000 of the increase and increased expenditures during this period were $950,000, a city staff report on the review noted.
“The facilities are aging and there is new cost pressure on the participants,” the report stated.
Sixty-seven per cent of the expenditures are covered by the city, with Area F handling 23 per cent and Area E taking on 10 per cent. The city also contributes an additional $184,000 per year.
Although the report acknowledged the potential expansion of the service to include other areas in the RDCK that utilize these and other recreation services, the financial sustainability of the service requires those using the recreation services contribute to the cost.
“There are other ways that we can identify user groups that aren’t contributing through taxation, but I think those are conversations the (recreation) commission needs to have,” said Page. “But I think this foundational document needed to happen too, because it was very clear from those old, historic bylaw pieces that they were very light on details.”
But mayor at the time of the conversation, John Dooley, said population growth has continued in the regional district as well as in the city, meaning more people were using the city’s recreation services.
“So you have a larger number of people now using this facility from areas that are not contributing. If we are going to even sustain what we have today we are going to need more people to contribute,” he said. “I would personally find it hard to agree with what is on this page here (in the review) and what is being recommended, unless we go back and start having those conversations.”
He said the facility is not being leveraged at all, there was no promotion of it and there was no conversation with minor sports groups in Nelson to develop tournament capacity.
“What needs to happen is the recreation commission needs to be re-structured so that there are people sitting on that board that are bringing input in from those organizations that can deliver and develop those tournament opportunities,” Dooley said. “We should be developing the capacity to run those tournaments in that facility, instead the ice sits empty.
“All that is happening here is we are short of money; we go back to the same taxpayers to pick it up. And we have been four years trying to fix this and we are exactly where we started, except now it’s costing us more money.”