Limited pool, arena closure suggested

Council concerned over rising costs to operate facilites

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Closing the indoor pool for a few months each year and closing the second ice surface were suggestions made after the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board asked for more money to operate in 2018.

High Prairie town council held budget meetings Dec. 4-5 and heard the recreation board wants another $78,524 from town council in 2018. As equal partners in operating the facilities, the rec board is also asking Big Lakes County for the same amount resulting in a requisition increase of $157,048.

After debate, council said no.

It was Councillor Michael Long who suggested the closures.

“We have white elephants we can’t afford,” he said.

“Especially pools. We can’t afford it,” he added.

The indoor pool loses over $400,000 in operations each year.

“I don’t like it. I see it closing,” said Long. “Shut down the pool a couple of months. Shut one arena down. We have to get [spending] under control.

“I know it hurts. I get it. We can’t afford it,” he concluded. “There is no way of fixing this except closing the doors for awhile.”

If council approved the rec board’s request, taxes will surely rise to pay for it, or other departments would have to find cost savings to compensate.

No estimates on costs savings by shutting down the facilities was cited.

Town treasurer Terri Wiebe told council most of the increase in the rec board’s budget arises from the indoor pool due to increased staff and increased wages.

Recreation board chair Arlen Quartly, replied one more full-time staff member is needed after an audit was completed by the Red Cross.

Councillor Debbie Rose reminded council recreation is not a business, but a service.

“This is a large department with large budget.”

Councillor Brian Gilroy opposed raising taxes to pay for the service.

“We have seniors on fixed incomes. Teachers received a zero per cent increase. I really have a great deal of trouble…it’s done on the backs of the taxpayers.”

Rose persisted.

“Recreation is not a business, it’s a service. Do we keep the pool open or do we close it?”

Councillor Donna Deynaka questioned the amount of programming done to help boost revenue.

“The rec board looks after the facilities but they don’t do the programming in those facilities. Where is the programming from the rec board?”

Rose saw a brighter future in the New Year when council assumes control, adding recreation director Lori Matthews will not be burdened with CAO duties and can instead focus on increasing programming.

She added the public was angry at fee increases, especially the Repertoire Dance Society, who left the Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre causing a $17,000 drop in revenue. The society was paying $28 an hour and found a place to rent for only $20 an hour.

“I can’t really fault them for going somewhere else,” said Rose.

“The increased rates sort of backfired on us. All that did was anger people and push people back.”

Mayor Brian Panasiuk agreed with Rose, adding the rec director could do more programming and fundraising to boost revenue in the future.

Councillor Judy Stenhouse was concerned about the increase. With increases in water and sewer rates, seniors will find it tough to pay the bills, let alone a tax increase.

“We don’t have the money right now.”

“The bottom line here is we can’t afford [it] when the people aren’t getting raises,” said Gilroy.

“All the departments are asking for a little bit more, not the museum,” said Panasiuk. “We have a lot of departments asking for more money.”

“We have to be careful here,” replied Gilroy. “We are stewards of the money. “What can we afford?”

Council passed an interim budget with the same $568,146 requisition as past year. The requisition can still change after council passes their final budget in the New Year.

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