South-end communities dive into the pool

Going forward, residents of Cowichan Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill will pay no more to use the pool than residents of Duncan. - Andrew Leong
Going forward, residents of Cowichan Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill will pay no more to use the pool than residents of Duncan.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

There will be no more paying double to swim in Cowichan Aquatic Centre for south Cowichan residents.

Cowichan Valley Regional District directors have reached an agreement to drop the centre's two-tier fee structure for Mill Bay, Cowichan Bay, Cobble Hill and Shawnigan Lake.

South-end residents will no longer pay essentially double the going rates to use the pool. In exchange taxpayers in those communities will pay $2.67 per $100,000 of property assessment toward the pool, with the money coming out of the Kerry Park rec centre budget.

"This is good news for the Cowichan Aquatic Centre for all our communities because it means we can increase the users at our pool,'' said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure.

"We're hoping to open the facility to them early, even though the agreement starts Jan. 1. North Cowichan and Duncan have been very desirous of having more participants in funding the operating of the pool. Now we have them.''

"This is going to level the playing field somewhat,'' said Ron Austen, the CVRD's general manager of parks, recreation and culture.''

No tax increase is expected for the new partners because a Kerry Park re-roofing project debt initiated six years ago is being retired at the end of this year.

"They're redirecting the retired debt load,'' said Austen. "That will go into paying these costs.''

The surplus left from the two transactions will go into reserves.

The deal also ends a service withdrawal process initiated by Cowichan Bay. The Bay will continue as a Kerry Park Recreation Centre partner, but will not be responsible for any major capital improvements.

"It's something that needed to happen,'' said Cowichan Bay director Lori Iannidinardo. "It's a bit about fairness. Cowichan Bay historically paid higher taxes. This agreement will help equalize it for the four areas and still keep us as a funding partner for Kerry Park.''

Perseverance may well be at the heart of reaching an agreement now, according to Iannidinardo.

"I just think communicating, staying at the table, sort of helping out, not backing out on this and many times I felt like that,'' she said, adding she thinks this is a big step toward solving the larger issue of regional recreation.

"That's my ultimate goal,'' she said. "I think recreation and recreational facilities are important for all of us. There's a pool already in Duncan and we need to use it.''

There's another group happy for the resolution of the Cowichan Aquatic Centre to a larger degree.

"From a staff perspective, I know the good staff at the pool will really welcome this,'' said Austen.

"Their staff has just been getting berated by residents from electoral areas that don't contribute,'' said Mill Bay Director Mike Walker. "Their numbers are way down.''

All the feedback Walker is hearing in the early stages of the agreement has been positive.

"The real litmus paper is their programs,'' said Walker. "What are they going to be picking up from the four electoral areas.''

The inclusion of the four areas will provide some solid numbers to base future decisions about whether or not to continue with the arrangement, he added.

"Five, six years from now, the politicians for the time may say, 'We're not seeing the numbers,' or they may say, 'Look at the increases we're seeing.'''

Area E (Cowichan Station-Glenora-Sahtlam) and the Cowichan Lake region areas will remain under the two-tier fee structure. Lefebure hopes to sit down with directors of those areas to get them on board.

"I would love to see every area in the regional district accessing this facility,'' noted Lefebure. "We don't want a two-tier fee structure.''

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