In the story ‘Council divided on recreation plan’ published in the Lakes District News’ July 20 issue, councillors discussed whether or not the village should act as a service provider when it comes to recreation or if recreation services should be cost-neutral.
The village’s recreation department has been dealing with a significant increase in its budget since the Lakeside Multiplex opened in 2014. Some councillors have raised concerns about the budget increase and have been trying to find ways to make recreation in Burns Lake cost-neutral.
But how does Burns Lake compare to nearby communities when it comes to public spending on recreation?
Burns Lake’s subsidy rate (the percentage of the total cost that is covered by the municipality) for the Lakeside Multiplex is 40 per cent, while the subsidy rate for the ice arena is currently 38 per cent.
In Houston, their subsidy rate toward their ice arena is 40 per cent, while the municipality’s contribution toward their pool and gym is 70 per cent.
In Fraser Lake, the subsidy rate for their ice area is 73 per cent; and the subsidy rate for Vanderhoof’s ice arena is 60 per cent.
According to councillor Susan Schienbein, however, recreation subsidy is difficult to quantify solely on a percentage. She questioned what would be the socioeconomic indicators of the communities in comparison.
“For example, what is the average income in the community? How much disposable income do the residents of this community have compared to the other communities? This affects the ability of residents to pay taxes and still have money available for other necessities and luxuries that they choose – theatre, arts, sports, shopping, etc.”
Schienbein also questioned what other pressing costs affect these communities.
“Are there urgent competing priorities? Do other communities need new water towers? Roads? Bridges? Sidewalks? Recycling programs?”
Schienbein said she doesn’t believe it’s possible for recreation in Burns Lake to be cost-neutral. However, she believes that as elected officials, it is their duty to consider these expenditures critically and objectively.
“Our council has adopted a budget for 2016 and I fully expect our staff to deliver recreation services within that budget,” she said. “This budget will be analyzed and discussed for 2017, which will include a thorough review of the costs and benefits of the recreation subsidy.”
During the July 13 council meeting, councillor Chris Beach said Houston and many other communities don’t see their recreation a revenue generator.
While Beach suggested the creation of more parks and green spaces in Burns Lake, councillor Kelly Holliday questioned the costs and implications that this would have on the village’s budget.
During the meeting, director of recreation Dooseon Jung urged council to define if the village will act as a service provider when it comes to recreation or if they would like recreation to be cost-neutral.
In a report prepared to Burns Lake council in November 2015, the village’s recreation department suggests that while the village provides many core services for the taxpayers such as sewer, water, road maintenance and snow removal that are not typically cost-neutral, recreation services could be viewed in a similar context – providing residents healthier and more enjoyable lifestyles in addition to attracting and retaining families and skilled workers in the community.
The report also quotes an article called “Changing notions of public goods,” prepared for the 2011 National Recreation Summit by David Whitson. According to the article, “it is part of history of public recreation that recreational infrastructure was seen as ‘public good:’ non-rival amenities, provided from public funds that offered recreational opportunities that would not be available in the marketplace at prices accessible to most families.”
In addition, the report points out that if the recreation department were to increase fees to become cost-neutral, Lakeside Multiplex fees would have to increase approximately 80 per cent. Earlier this year, council voted to increase Lakeside Multiplex user fees for electoral areas B and E members as well as visitors to the community by 25 per cent.
Although the village is in the process of creating a recreation master plan, its objectives are still not very clear.
Council will discuss this topic again during the next council meeting on Aug. 17, 2016.