Nelson city council backed off just a little this week in its attempt to fast track some changes in how regional recreation is funded.
At its meeting Monday it decided that rather than getting the recreation commission to reimburse its annual payment of $184,000, that money will be held in abeyance until the city and the rest of the Regional District of Central Kootenay come to new arrangements regarding recreational funding.
Afterward, Area F regional director Tom Newell, who asked the city to reconsider its stance, conceded this represented a softening of the city’s approach, but said he is still “very disappointed.”
“I remain very concerned that the negotiations city council seems to think we are going to enter into are beginning with a hammer hanging over my head.”
Mayor Deb Kozak says the decision was a step forward.
Council is taking a measured approach,” she said in an interview. “I think this is healthy. Let’s all come to the table and have the full conversation and understand each other’s positions and move forward. The usage patterns and the population have changed over time. We need to look at a real regional approach.”
This week’s decision by council must be approved by the regional district board.
The question is how much rural residents should pay to support recreational facilities in Nelson, and how a fair apportionment of those expenses should be decided.
In some rural areas, residents are taxed for those services (such as the pool, the ice rink, and the playing fields) through their property taxes, and in other areas they are not, even though their residents access and use those services.
The areas that contribute through taxation are Area F (the North Shore from Kokanee Park to Bonnington), the west part of Area E (Blewett), and Nelson.
Those who do not contribute include the Slocan Valley, Ymir, Tarrys/Pass Creek, the south shore of the lake, and the North Shore from Kokanee Park to Queens Bay.
In addition to the taxes Nelson residents pay toward recreation, the city has been paying $184,000 per year to the recreation commission since 2006 following the expansion of its boundaries to include the Kootenay River dams so it could tax them.
Those funds were allocated to the community complex in exchange for rural areas E and F supporting the referendum to build the new arena and upgrade the fitness and aquatic centre at that time. The annual payment was written into a regional district bylaw.
There was also an agreement in 2001 that all rural areas would actively seek ways to more fairly share the costs of a number of other city services such as the library, the youth centre, the museum, playing fields, and the Civic Centre.
The recreation commission is an RDCK body that oversees regional recreation including the community complex. Its members in addition to Newell are Area E representative Ramona Faust (chair), Nelson mayor Deb Kozak, and Nelson councillors Valerie Warmington and Janice Morrison.
Last fall, in the face of large upcoming costs to renovate the aquatic centre, the recreation commission decided the recreation commission should reimburse the $184,000 to the city, and that the rural areas and Nelson would raise taxes to come up with that money instead.
The City of Nelson majority on the commission initiated this as a condition of the city’s contributing to the upcoming aquatic centre renovations. Another condition was that discussions get started on re-apportioning the cost of recreation more fairly among the rural areas that use the services.
Newell and Faust were not happy with the outcome and also objected to the process. They said the city majority on the recreation commission forced this on them, rather than negotiating it with them.
Earlier this month, Newell asked city council to reconsider its decision about the $184,000. In response, council directed its staff to come up with creative solutions. The proposed motion, which passed Monday, states that the City of Nelson will ask that the Nelson and District Community Complex service hold $184,000 in an NDCC reserve to be paid to the city in the event a full review on a new funding model for recreation isn’t realized by Sept. 30, 2016.