Friday, February 12, 2016

Recreation Fees discussion provides for heated exchange in Council chamber

The final passage of a bylaw to increase Recreation fees by five percent over the next five years, provided for the longest discussion of Tuesday's Council session, as City Council members revisited much of the discussion on the theme that has marked a number of City Council sessions in the past.

The topic came up again on Tuesday evening's Agenda, with Council asked to provide final approval on the controversial plan to change the fee structures at Recreation facilities, a proposal that most on Council appear to believe will provide for improved funding streams to address some of the operational and  infrastructure issues with the Department.

Ms. Willa Thorpe, the City's Recreation Director returned to Council to provide a review of the plan that is in place, while addressing concerns related to making recreation programs available to those with limited income, noting that there are procedures in place at the Civic Centre to assist those in the community that may not have financial means to take advantage of the recreation departments offerings.
The City's Director of Recreation
provided the details to the City's new
Recreation Fees program

Following her presentation, Councillors Thorkelson and Randhawa once again raised their concerns that the increase to fees still might impact on those of limited financial means in the community and that the City is sending the wrong message to its residents through the increases.

On the theme of wider access to community programs, Councillors Cunningham and Thorkelson also asked for clarification on how the City determines who is of limited income, or in need when they arrive at the Recreation facilities, with Councillor Thorkelson expressing her concerns on the need for those at the lower end of socio economic levels in the community having to specifically identify themselves as in need.

To reinforce her position on the current situation in the city, Councillor Thorkelson also provided some statistical review for council members, noting Prince Rupert's low standing when it comes to the socio-economic index and human hardship levels found across the province.

A suggestion from Councillor Cunningham to address the funding situation on a year to year basis was quickly knocked down by Mayor Brain, who outlined his thoughts on why a more long term plan was required.

"The issue is that we need to keep certainty for the town and we need to have a scale model that works and shows where we're going and that we know how to plan for the future  ... moving to five year things is exactly where we need to be going, with the Library, with the Museum those kinds of things, so we can have consistency in our plans"-- Mayor Brain on the need for longer term planning for Recreation funding

Further into the discussion the Mayor offered his observations on Council's commitment to not keep raising taxes and find innovative solutions to issues led to a heated exchange between the Mayor and Councillor Thorkelson.  With the Councillor providing a very different view on the theme of the recreation funding issues and how best to address them.

"Be careful about when you say this council, unless I'm not part of this council, and maybe I'm not. But I'm committed to having a town that's worth to live in and if we have to pay two percent more every year on your taxes, that is what you're going to have to pay ... Until we get some more industry to pay the way, or the Port decides to pay its way, that's we are going to have to to that, there is no other way  ... -- Councillor Thorkelson outlining her position on the city's current approach to Recreation funding.

Councillor Thorkelson, reinforced her opposition to the motion to raise the Recreation Fees, observing that she doesn't have a problem with increasing the taxation level in the community to provide for such services in the city, while the Mayor countered that Council members have heard the message that residents are tired of year after year of tax increases.

"Councillor Thorkelson I think we know what your view is right, we understand that you would like to raise taxes, when it comes down to it I don't want to get into an argument of strategy, the thing is my job is to reflect the view of Council and we've been voting in that manner ... it's almost the way we look at how we want to grow the town right, we had a 6-1 vote on a new development to have new tax revenue which you opposed and so here you are lecturing on us terms of why we should be doing something a certain way. Yet at the same time are the person who is actually voting against having new money coming in"

Councillors Mirau, Randhawa, Cunningham and Thorkelson offered up a few more thoughts on the issue, with Councillor Thorkelson making her final point on the theme.

Asking why Council was following this plan, particularly if the amount to be received from the fee increase proposal was insignificant income to the City and the income to the Recreation Centre, but is not insignificant to individuals then why are we raising the fees to youth.

Mayor Brain brought the discussion to an end, suggesting that Councillor Thorkelson was looking at the issue through one lens, while the City was looking through a bigger lens.

Concluding his thoughts by stating that the approach that the City is taking makes perfect logical sense, noting that council members had beat the topic to death, calling for a vote on the issue.

Council voted to give final approval to the bylaw by a margin of 5 votes to 2, with Councillors Thorkelson and Randhawa casting the votes against the increase.

The new rates will see increases of 5 percent each year for five years, starting on July 1st of 2016.

You can review the terms of the new Bylaw on Recreation fee increases from Tuesday's agenda package it can be found on page 27.

The presentation from Ms. Thorpe and the discussion that followed among Council members can be reviewed from the City's Video Archive, it starts at 22 minutes and carries through until the 56 minute mark.

For an overall look at Tuesday's Council session see our Timeline feature here.

For more items related to City Council Discussions see our archive page here.

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