Pitt Meadows has built its own parks and recreation department for slightly more than the $2.5 million it has paid Maple Ridge in the decades-old partnership that expires at the end of this month.
“We had that thing hanging over us – it was going to be $1 million more. But you guys did it. Fantastic job,” Coun. David Murray said after council received a staff update on Pitt Meadows new parks and recreation department at a meeting last week.
CAO Mark Roberts noted the budget is still $15,000 over the $2.5 million goal, but it could have been worse.
“There was a consultant’s report prepared previously that indicated that if the city of Pitt Meadows were to separate from the City of Maple Ridge in the parks and leisure services agreement, that to deliver the same services we had with Maple Ridge, it would cost the city up to $1 million more,” said Roberts.
“So, to achieve the same budget target at $2.5 million as we would have paid Maple Ridge is, to me, a huge feat for both council and staff,” Roberts added.
A year ago, Maple Ridge council decided to end the partnership, called the joint parks and leisure services agreement. A consultant’s report indicated Pitt Meadows was saving about $1 million per year because of the 80/20 cost sharing partnership, while it was costing Maple Ridge $200,000 more per year than if it was operating on its own.
The cities tried to work out a deal to even the costs, but in October 2015 Maple Ridge council decided to exit the agreement which had been in place since 1994.
“For us, the most important thing is for our staff and council was to be able to focus wholeheartedly on building a really amazing sports community in Maple Ridge,” Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said at the time.
She said as Maple Ridge grows and builds facilities farther from Pitt Meadows, the agreement would make less sense.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker had questioned whether his city would want to pay 20 per cent of the costs for a new rink or pool in eastern Maple Ridge.
Murray, a Pitt Meadows representative on the parks commission for five years, said ending the partnership made sense for Maple Ridge.
“I don’t blame Maple Ridge for splitting – most of their growth is happening in the east,” he said, but Pitt Meadows would prefer new facilities to be built in the west, closer to its residents.
Murray said there are positives in the city having its own parks department, such as employment for more Pitt Meadows residents. The city’s workforce is rising from 64 employees to more than 100.
“A lot of those positions will be filled by people who live within the community,” said Murray
The actual number of new full-time equivalents, for the entire team parks and recreation department, will be 20.8, explained Kate Zanon, the city director of community services.
The city will staff 23 full-time positions with 37 employees.
Zanon said the city has been able to save money by giving staff members multiple responsibilities.
“In a municipality our size, you have to,” she added. “A lot of our staff wear more than one hat.”
Also, programs will be tailored to the community’s needs. For example, in Pitt Meadows, 82 per cent of residents work outside the city, meaning many parents aren’t home in the hours after school lets out. So the new rec department will create more programs aimed at the young demographic between the ages of three and six.
Zanon said council gave staff a mandate to retain current service levels, and that has been the goal.
“We are going to try to maintain the programming and maintain service levels,” she said. “So far, we haven’t had a difficulty with that.”
Because the fall programs run from September to December, both city council agreed that Maple Ridge will continue to deliver programming until the end of the year, even though the formal agreement expires at the end of the month.
So Pitt Meadows will not begin providing recreation services until January 2017.