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ELECTION 2014: Cowichan Sportsplex funding will go to vote

Cowichan Valley residents have been voting with their feet for years to show their support for the Cowichan Sportsplex as the area’s multi-use recreational facility.

Now they’ll get the chance to vote for the facility, which started as a grass infield in 1997, in a referendum.

Wednesday night, Cowichan Valley Regional District directors approved separate November votes in each of the nine rural areas on the question of whether the sportsplex should receive dedicated annual funding.

Catherine Brandon, the sportsplex’s executive director, said her society has been trying for the past four years to get its funding added as a line item on the CVRD budget, instead of having to go cap-in-hand every year looking for grants-in-aid.

“We’re excited about it going to referendum, and optimistic too, but we recognize there’s a risk,” she said. “We need people, if they believe in the sportsplex, to get out and vote, we hope they don’t get complacent.”

Last year, the complex recorded 200,000 visits.

The facility’s funding, “just shy,” of $400,000 comes from a mix of revenue, donations and local government contributions. This year, the CVRD contributed more than one-third of that: $145,111, down from last year’s $146,500.

Another third of the budget, about $130,000, comes from sportsplex fundraising, through events, advertising, rentals and proceeds from concessions.

“Fundraising is a fickle thing, the longer you’re around, the less excitement there is about the project, that makes it harder to fundraise,” Brandon said. “But we still have the community’s support.”

The remainder comes from the Municipality of North Cowichan, the City of Duncan and School District No. 79. Brandon said none of that funding is a line item in any organization’s budget. The society has to approach them every year.

“I can see why they started that way (dispersing grants), people were tentative about us, they thought, we’ll see how they do,” the executive director said. “But we’ve been here for a long time now and doing a fabulous job.”

The facility, she said, brings millions into the region, through events like 2005’s B.C. Seniors’ Games and 2008’s North American Indigenous Games. The B.C. Summer Games are coming in 2018.

“One important thing we want people to think about, we know that money is tight; people don’t want to pay more taxes,” Brandon said. “The thing is, we’ve been receiving the money for a number of years, so it’s not a tax increase, it’s moving from a grant in aid to a fixed line item. They’ve been supporting us for years, we just want to make funding more stable.”

At press time, the exact amount being proposed for each taxpayer to pay wasn’t available. However, CVRD documents prepared for the CVRD’s June 25 regional committee meeting state that if approved, the  society’s $152,000 in funding for 2015 would cost taxpayers with an assessed home value of $321,210, $3.31.

“That’s less than the cost of a specialty coffee a year,” Brandon said.

What would it mean if the society got its funding?

Brandon said they would be able to pay their five full-time and one part-time staff a living wage. It would also make it easier to see that the annual maintenance is done on the facility, to maintain its value as an asset.

The sportsplex, she said, is about much more than sports. It’s about health, camaraderie, and a place for seniors and families.

“Our tagline is, ‘we are the heart of a healthy community,’” she said.

How The Referendum Works

At its meeting July 9, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s board voted to hold nine separate referendums on Nov. 15 — the same date as B.C.’s municipal elections — in each of the CVRD’s nine electoral areas.

The area’s four municipalities — Duncan, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan and North Cowichan would not be included in the vote.

According to Kathleen Harrison, the CVRD’s deputy corporate secretary, by rejecting a regional bylaw, instead choosing to go with nine separate referendums, asking the same thing, there’s no authority to force the municipalities to hold a vote. The municipalities can decide whether they want to participate or not.

A staff recommendation to go to referendum as an entire region was rejected by many of the electoral area directors at a previous meeting.Results from the referendum would then go to the CVRD board, which would vote on each referendum result, deciding whether they wanted to accept them.

Each referendum is expected to cost between $8,000 and $10,000 per area.

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