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Turf expense decision should go to people, decides Courtenay council

The electors should get a chance to decide.

That's Courtenay council's view on the Comox Valley United Soccer Club (CVUSC)'s project to build artificial turf fields at Valley View Park.

Last week, council voted to support sending the project and the need for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) to borrow $3.315 million to referendum.

The CVUSC's proposal is a two-field artificial turf complex at Valley View Park.

The first field is intended exclusively for soccer, while the second field is intended for soccer and other user groups, Matthew Blecha, president of the CVUSC, told council in July.

A feasibility report estimated the cost for these fields and ball diamond relocation to be $4.2 million.

"Our club has agreed to commit $800,000 to this project, leaving a balance of $3.315 million, which we are hoping can be obtained by means of an alternate approval process or by means of referendum," said Blecha. "Working with the CVRD, they were able to make some calculations, and the assessed increase for the average property owner would be about $18 a year, which is essentially less than the price of a pizza.

We are confident on our ability to make good on our financial commitment."

The CVUSC has 1,500 members and is growing at a rate of three per cent a year, noted Blecha.

"As the popularity of soccer increases in the world and locally, our biggest challenges remain field closures and field accessibility," he said.

The CVUSC is hoping the decision about a referendum or alternate approval process will be made this month, in which case, they'd be gearing for a November referendum or October alternate approval date, and construction could start as early as the beginning of next year, with completion by the middle of the summer of next year, explained Blecha.

"Our goal is these high-quality artificial turf fields because we believe it is the right thing to do, and the time is right," he said. "We believe these fields will be worth the investment because we believe they have long-lasting benefits to our community."

The CVUSC has $390,000 in the bank right now, and the club has received commitments for in-kind donations as well, explained the CVUSC's Pat Lewis.

"There's a lot of momentum in the community to do it," he said. "What we'd like to do is have the opportunity to take it to the electorate and see if they like it."

Tillie Manthey, Courtenay's director of financial services, recommended that council not support amending the CVRD bylaw that would increase the maximum requisition from $0.04 to $0.08 per thousand for the Comox Valley Sports Track and Fields Service, as council's support in October was based on the understanding that the approval in principle supported the construction cost of one field.

Council went against Manthey's recommendation and decided to support amending the bylaw, subject to a referendum passing.

"This group has done a great job and raised a lot of money, and I applaud their efforts," said Coun. Larry Jangula. "I think it has to go to a referendum because of the cost, and I think the costs of building and maintenance need to be shared."

An avid supporter of sports and the soccer community in particular, Coun. Doug Hillian had mixed feelings, as he was concerned about increasing taxes, but he ultimately felt the project should move forward to referendum.

"My concern is we are continually being told by people that they are overtaxed ... many people see there being an increased burden on the residential homeowner," he said. "I think the organization has worked long enough and hard enough they deserve a chance to have this go forward and be tested by the community. It's a tough one, but I think it's something that's worthy of being brought to the electors at election time."

Coun. Murray Presley pointed out that sports like soccer are more affordable than others such as hockey.

"I appreciate the fact you can build two (fields) cheaper than building one now and one later, and I'm not sure we wouldn't let the public make that decision," he added.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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