Renovations to the Nelson aquatic centre cleared a last-minute hurdle Thursday that threatened to delay the project.
The City of Nelson won a hard-fought compromise, gaining $184,000 and commitments from neighbouring rural areas to look at broadening the tax base for regional recreation by expanding the service area.
In exchange, the city threw its majority support on the five-member recreation commission behind proceeding with the $4.9 million pool renovation, which is expected to go to tender early next month.
During a heated meeting last week, city reps indicated they wanted the recreation funding model addressed before proceeding with the upgrades. That meeting adjourned without a decision. However, a bargain was reached following a calm 2½-hour session this week.
Nelson mayor Deb Kozak emphasized she didn’t want to jeopardize the city’s amicable relations with its regional district partners, but felt “a disproportionate load” of the recreation budget is falling on the city.
“It’s never my intention to throw any other politician or staff under the bus,” she said. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that the city and the regional district must work together. I’m glad we stuck around and hammered it out. We had a really vigorous discussion.”
Part of the arrangement will see $184,000 returned to the city that it has paid into recreation annually since 2006 from a combination of Nelson Hydro profits and taxation on Kootenay River dams.
However, that money will now have to be made up through additional taxation shared by the city, Area F, and western portion of Area E — so Nelson’s actual windfall will be less than half. But Kozak described the refund as symbolic.
“I’m very pleased with the discussion and the outcome,” she said. “Everyone worked hard to come to a positive solution. That is a great first step, and I’m happy there is a commitment to further change.”
The regional district will now look for a new recreation funding model that ensures equity and long-term sustainability. It would potentially ask areas that don’t currently pay into the service to pick up some of the tab — namely the east portion of Area E (north and south shores of Kootenay Lake), Area G (Rural Salmo) and the lower portion of Area H (Slocan Valley).
Kozak said the review will need to consider changes in population, service delivery, and facility use since the recreation service was established over 40 years ago.
Area H director Walter Popoff and Area G director Hans Cunningham were invited to Thursday’s meeting but unable to attend. However, both sent emails outlining their positions.
While Popoff didn’t rule out contributing, he indicated that he couldn’t make any commitments until a recreation master plan for his area is completed. Cunningham predicted any referendum in his area would “go down to flaming defeat.” He said while some of his constituents use Nelson’s recreation facilities, most go to Salmo, Fruitvale, Trail, or Castlegar. However, he left open the possibility of providing grant funding.
Area E director Ramona Faust said she would explain the situation to her constituents and ask what they think is fair. “I can’t sell the community short. They want their expenditures to reflect the value something has to them. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they will be receptive.”
A decision, she said, would likely require a referendum.
Facility use uncertain
One point everyone agrees on is the need for better information on who uses the recreation complex and how often.
Presently staff at the rec complex collect the addresses of pass holders and those who register for programs, but a summary broken down by electoral area isn’t readily available and will require some effort to tease out. Even then, the data won’t address single-day use.
Nelson’s recreation master plan, completed last year, found 78 per cent of Area H residents and 74 per cent of residents from the east part of Area E used the complex in 2010-11, although it didn’t indicate how often or what for.
A separate survey conducted for the Area E recreation commission found that 38 per cent of residents who responded use the complex five to ten times per year.
Faust, who chairs the recreation commission, said Thursday’s meeting was productive.
“We managed to reach an agreement that we are committed to looking at a tax base that reflects the use of the community complex,” she said. “It allows the necessary repairs to go ahead on time. All in all, I’m quite pleased.”
The aquatic centre upgrades, expected to close the pool from April to December, will address structural, mechanical, and electrical issues, and also improve decks, tiles and water proofing membranes.
The regional district has already agreed to borrow $4.5 million for the project over five years, which includes provisions for a reserve fund. However, it doesn’t include $253,000 in architect and planning costs, $80,000 in licenses, building permits, and legal expenses, and $80,000 toward reconfiguring the intersection of Hall Street and the rec complex parking lot. Chief administrator Stuart Horn said those items will be paid out of general operations, bringing the total to just over $4.9 million.
In 2014, the recreation service collected $3.5 million in taxes, with Nelson residents picking up 50 per cent, Area F 24 per cent, and Area E 10 per cent. The remaining 16 per cent came from taxation on Kootenay River dams.
In addition to Kozak and Faust, the recreation commission members are Nelson councillors Janice Morrison and Valerie Warmington, and Area F director Tom Newell.