County council holds regional recreation discussion

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SANDRA M STANWAY
Brooks Bulletin

On Thursday county council began a regional recreation board discussion as a follow up to December’s annual intermunicipal meeting.
“The intention of a regional recreation board would certainly take you in the direction of what was hoped for if regionalization had gone ahead,” said Layne Johnson, the county’s director of corporate services.
Without regionalization or amalgamation, Johnson said it will be challenging to form a recreation board that deals with all of the municipalities while there are individual corporate entities involved.
“We tried to do this in a much bigger picture. It got shot down by our residents so I don’t think we should lose sight of that either. Our hands are tied, too,” said Division 1 councillor Clarence Amulung.
Brooks CAO Alan Martens said he raised the issue at December’s meeting because the city will do a new 10 year recreation master plan. He thought it might be good to make it a regional plan.
“You don’t know what it will look like,” he told The Bulletin.
It’s not the first time county council is discussing a regional rec board.
It was discussed in 2008 when the Division 5 & 10 recreation board was approached for funding from outside organizations.
That led to looking at funding recreation facilities with Municipal Sustainably Initiative (MSI) money which led to two sharing programs by the county – the Regional Enhancement Reserve and the Regional Enhancement and Cooperation Agreement.
Both agreements saw the county share portions of their government funding from MSI and linear taxes.
“Consideration needs to be given to it so a response is provided,” Johnson said.
Both reeve Molly Douglass and Division 10 councillor Lionel Juss have a hard time wrapping their head around how a regional recreation board would work.
“I’d have to think hard to wrap my head around that one even and that’s just looking at our very own stuff,” said Douglass.
Juss believes it’s almost insurmountable to make a regional board.
“I have a real struggle with that. Each individual recreation is an individual area and they are proud of what they accomplished,” he said.
CAO Kevin Stephenson said from the county’s perspective regional recreation does make sense.
It makes sense if the county ends up providing funding for most recreation programs and capital projects but he wondered who would develop the capital plan and if there would be more operating funds available for one recreation provider over the other.
“At the end of the day it’s going to come down to money,” he said.
Funding recreation could be based on assessment, of which the county has 70 per cent in the region. It could be based on population or a combination of both.
Stephenson said if it’s based on assessment the county will pay over 75 per cent of the total cost of recreation without the control on expenditures or the annual budgets.
He said recreation is a ‘soft’ service and county council has indicated the service needs to be based on a user pay philosophy.
He said if the funding formula is based on assessments, “Municipalities are going to do their budgets, run their facilities and programs and you’re going to pick up the bulk of the tab.”
“It may be better to have those decisions made from a regional recreation board with weighting based on who’s paying the bills rather than, ‘Here’s your bill. Pay it.’ Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that point but it may depending on the final Intermunicipal collaboration Framework (ICF) agreement with each municipality,” he said.
“I think this is the beginning of a conversation,” said Douglass.
She would like the county to come up with ideas while recognizing the issue will be discussed at other municipal meetings.
Martens said he has asked that the recreation topic is included in next month’s joint services committee meeting.
“We need to keep this on our council agenda and talk about it some more,” said Douglass.