Rural representative Tom Newell says Nelson city council and the regional recreation commission are punishing taxpayers in his area. Last week, council agreed to look into his complaints about changes to regional recreation funding. Newell represents regional district Area F, which comprises the North Shore from Bonnington to Kokanee Park. The question is how much rural residents should pay to support recreational facilities in Nelson, and how that 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.Since 1973, the costs of regional recreation (including the aquatic centre) have been borne through taxation based on property assessments in the City of Nelson, Area F (the North Shore from Kokanee Park to Bonnington) and the west part of Area E (Blewett).Residents in the following areas do not contribute:
• the eastern portion of Area E (South Shore of Kootenay Lake, and North Shore Kokanee Park to Queens Bay) • Area H (Slocan Valley) • Area G (Ymir, rural Salmo)• Area I (Tarrys, Thrums, Pass Creek)Currently, according to Nelson’s city manager Kevin Cormack, 60 per cent of the cost of regional recreation is paid by Nelson, 28 per cent by Area F, and 12 per cent by area E.Recently the City of Nelson attempted to bring more equity to this situation, and it chose as its entry point a discussion at a meeting of the regional recreation commission about the upcoming costs of the renovations to the aquatic centre.The recreation commission is a Regional District of Central Kootenay body that oversees regional recreation including the community complex. Its members are Area E representative Ramona Faust (chair), Area F representative Tom Newell, Nelson mayor Deb Kozak, and Nelson councillors Valerie Warmington and Janice Morrison.As a result of that meeting, the RDCK board agreed to discussions over the coming months that would revisit the relationship between rural residents and regional recreational funding.And it agreed that the recreation commission must reimburse the city for a $184,000 payment the city makes to the recreation commission annually, a payment that originated in 2001 when the city expanded its boundaries to include the dams on the Kootenay River so it could tax them.
According to Nelson’s city manager Kevin Cormack, $184,000 per year of the resulting new tax revenue “was allocated to the Nelson and District Community Complex if Areas E and F supported the referendum to build the new arena and upgrade the fitness and aquatic centre. This was contingent on the area directors actively pursuing rationalization of number of city funded only services, including library, youth center, Touchstones, parks, and the Civic Centre.”The current discussions are difficult because of differing interpretations of historical events of more than a decade ago, and some documents from those days that gradually surfaced during and after the current discussions. Area F director Tom Newell (pictured at left) is not happy with the rescinding of the annual $184,000 payment. In an interview this week he told the Star his Area F residents will have to pay an extra $18 more in taxation on a $360,000 house, in order to make up the funding shortfall. He said this amounts to penalizing Area F residents.“The burden will fall on the ones that are already contributing the most,” he said.Newell said his message to council is “taking more money from Area F is not fair. Area F is not the problem, we are on the same side as you.”At the council meeting last week, Kozak said, “I was approached by director Newell from Area F and he has asked us to reconsider the decision about the $184,000 he has concerns about the impact it might have on his constituents, and he has asked if we would reconsider.” Council agreed to reconsider even though it was not council but the regional recreation commission that made the decision in the first place.Councillors Valerie Warmington and Janice Morrison expressed reluctance to agree to Newell’s request. Warmington said, “By taking it off the table again, the window we have opened up to have that discussion might close again.”Morrison agreed with Warmington but suggested council ask staff to put a historical package together.Councillor Michael Dailly suggested that the $184,000 could be held in abeyance during continued discussion. He acknowledged that director Newell’s area is “contributing the most and has the most to lose, and it is really the other outlying areas that we want to bring to the table.”Council agreed to ask staff to bring a report to the March 16 special council meeting with options and a historical overview including the financial arrangements regarding the $184,000.
This story was updated on March 13 to correct an error in the explanation of the origin of the payment of $184,000. The new information is in the paragraph that begins, “According to Nelson’s city manager…..”