Service cuts, increased fees for recreational facilities under discussion

The CVRD’s Sports Centre Commission will vote on potential recreational service cuts on Feb. 20.

Due to various operational challenges and financial impacts, the Comox Valley Regional District is considering service reductions and fee increases for its recreation facilities.

The operational challenges are due to multiple factors, including increased personnel expenses to comply with new safety regulations and maintaining the facilities’ infrastructure.

The CVRD’s recreation department presented its five-year financial plan to the regional district’s Sports Centre Commission on Feb. 6. The plan highlights three options: approving the proposed financial plan as it is, amending it, or increasing the recreation department’s tax requisition to offset the shortfall.

The commission will vote on how to proceed at its next meeting on Feb. 20.

A recent aquatic safety review from the Canadian Lifesaving Society placed new national standards on how many lifeguards should be on deck at an aquatic centre at any given time.

Technical Safety BC also placed new staffing regulations for recreation facilities following a deadly ammonia leak at a hockey rink in Fernie in October.

These regulatory changes mean that personnel expenses will increase for the CVRD’s recreation department. The department is budgeting for a $273,991 increase for staffing requirements this year.

Possible service reductions

One option to address higher personnel expenses is to reduce service hours for the CVRD’s aquatic, sports, and wellness centres. The changes would include later opening and earlier closing hours, reduced summer hours, and closures of certain facilities during Christmas and spring break.

The Aquatic Centre’s proposed reductions include fewer swimming lessons, fewer fitness classes, and a reduction in hours for lane swimming.

“It could potentially be quite an impact,” said Jennifer Zbinden, the senior manager of the CVRD’s recreation facilities.

However, Zbinden said that nothing is actually being proposed yet and the commission is simply assessing its options.

“These are just preliminary discussions,” she said. “We bring forward where we’re at, discussions are had with the commission, and then we’re given our homework.”

A staff report claims that the suggested service reductions would save the recreation department $176,730 per year. The CVRD wants to maintain the 2017 tax requisition of $4,520,251 for 2018.

“We’re just looking for a way to find some solutions and honour the wishes of not increasing tax requisitions,” said Zbinden.

Response from the commission

Some directors on the Sports Centre Commission seemed concerned with the potential service reductions, though they commended the recreation department for trying to maintain last year’s tax requisition levels.

“The last thing we want to do is pass this on to the taxpayer, but at the same time, we don’t want to be in a position where we need to cut services,” said Courtenay director Manno Theos, who chairs the Sports Centre Commission.

“The commission is now weighing its options of either not proceeding with these recommendations or finding other alternative ways of paying for the shortfall,” he added. “We’re just investigating the impact on the taxpayer if we don’t go ahead with all these recommendations.”

The issue will come back to the Sports Centre Commission for further discussion and a vote on Feb. 20. The recreation department’s final budget will be approved in early March.

User fees could increase:

According to the staff report, the recreation department is also reviewing its user fees.

Zbinden said the department is comparing its current fee structure with what is offered in other Island municipalities.

“We recognize our facilities’ fees haven’t had a review in quite some time, so there could potentially be increases to our user fees,” she said.

Staff will bring another report to the Sports Centre Commission in April on potential increases to user fees, which could go into effect next September.

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