Editorial – Living in oblivion

Jeff Burgar

Politicians and governments are often said they are unable to think clearly about money: “They don’t have an income problem. They have a spending problem.”

High Prairie town council, dealing with its “brand new recreation department” can be said to also have that same problem. But possibly, the problem might be just as much the opposite: “They don’t have a spending problem. They have an income problem.”

The rec department operates both the Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre and the Aquatic Centre. It is awash in red ink. Hugely awash. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Nobody expects public rec facilities of any kind, to make money. Just keep bleeding down to a manageable dribble. Something that can be made up with an injection of taxpayer dollars. High Prairie’s rec department, and the rec board before, doesn’t need a bandage and a glass of water now and then. It needs complete transfusions regularly!

Everybody knew, and was told many, many times, building a stand-alone indoor swimming pool will end up being a giant money pit.

“Build an integrated facility,” our local people were told. They all agreed. They went to meetings. They were told the same thing over and over. Build your meeting rooms, indoor tracks, hockey rinks, swimming pool and anything else you want. But do it all together. You want to make ice? Use the waste heat and warm the pool. You want air conditioning or heating? Go with bigger units. Cheaper to run for what they produce. You need staff? They are all right there. Concession? All there!

So, everybody happily went to work raising money. Then some mayor named John Brodrick announced at a High Prairie council meeting about a dozen years ago, “We’re going to break ground this fall on Phase 1. A new pool.”

Then came news a deal could not be made for the planned site. So the pool was moved to High Prairie School Division land. Integrated facility bye bye. Huge bills, hello, hello.

As predicted, it is very expensive. Not so predictable was the attitude by rec board members and its supporters over the years. Basically, “Oh well. No matter how badly we run things, we can always get money from taxpayers.”

Every once in awhile, something clicked in their brains. In the gang of money spenders in the two governments running the rec board, two staff members actually tried to earn money. Rec director Paula Cowell and award winning pool manager Ginger Pedersen. Of course, when the top of the department is an Old Boys’ Club, doing good things in the middle gets you obliterated. Which happened to both. So predictable.

Also predictable is High Prairie Councillor Debbie Rose now musing, since town taxpayers are tapped out completely, it’s now time to get First Nations and Metis Settlements paying, through federal and provincial governments. Talking with First Nations and Settlements was sent to the rec board years ago, back when earning money, everybody working as a team, and doing good things for everybody, including First Nations and Settlements, was a priority. Unsurprisingly, no talks happened. Everything today is yesterday’s result.

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