The 2013 Recreation Master Plan…did it curl away?

It’s important to acknowledge there is a limit to how much the taxpayer can subsidize recreation.

It’s important to acknowledge there is a limit to how much the taxpayer can subsidize recreation.

That is why in 2013, the City of Wetaskiwin took a very positive step and hired Michael Roma of RC Strategies RC to prepare and present a Recreation and Parks Master Plan. The Recreation Master Plan provided “the blueprint” for planning for recreation facilities now, and up to 15 years in the future.

With this kind of information at hand and a new curling season only months away, it was confusing to the “standing room only” audience at the June 29 council meeting why the curling club unexpectedly received the shocking news that their facility was to be carved in half to accommodate the four year search by the gymnastics club for an appropriate facility for their athletes. It was confusing to the gymnastics club and their supporters why their “straightforward” proposal to share space with the curling club now had to be defended at a council meeting. The curling club takes a position on the issue: “The Wetaskiwin Curling Association Board suspects that the proposed ‘dual’ use of the ice area is financially motivated.” The curling club was presented with a proposal to pay the same rental fees for 50 per cent of their current space.

Council did not make a decision but instructed administration to negotiate and execute agreements with both the curling club and the Wetaskiwin Gymnastics Club towards an agreement that would accommodate both users. A report is to be presented to Council at the July 20 council meeting.

There should have been no surprises. Back in 2013, Roma told it exactly how it is. After gathering and preparing 95 pages of advice and reporting the findings to council and administration, the plan carefully defined what the city should expect to pay for recreation now and in the future.  It also provided estimated costs for each specific project. “The intent of this plan is to guide decision making with regards to future recreation and parks facilities and services provided by the City of Wetaskiwin with consideration to all associated stakeholders, including the County of Wetaskiwin, Town of Millet, Hobbema, and other levels of government, local non-profit volunteer groups, and the private sector.”

When he began his presentation to council in 2013, Roma knew his recommendations were not going to be what council wanted to hear. He recommended that the city get prepared to spend money. He announced that in the short term (1 – 5 years)   the city will require $6,862,500 of capital investment.  The long term need (6-15 years) will be a whopping $26,425,000. That is what it will cost to maintain existing recreation facilities and build new ones. To operate them will cost the taxpayer even more; $905,000 to meet the annual short term need (1 – 5 years) and $725,000 for the long term need (6-15 years).

His report did not take into consideration added expenses of the proposed Manluk aquatic centre. The direction received by RC Strategies was the plan was to be created without consideration of budgetary restrictions. That meant the plan did not identify the funding sources for existing and new recreation expenses such as the aquatic centre and other recommendations in the Plan. “Since the Master Plan is a going-forward report to be used for future decision making, the new Aquatic (Manluk) Centre was not included in the data collection process.”  Still, to not take into consideration building costs in excess of $22.5M for the Manluk Centre, much of which is funded by debentures, or borrowed money plus significant increased operating costs makes all the recommendations in the master plan become even more alarming.

RC Strategies has an established reputation for leading this planning process by working on a dozen or more similar projects at any given time. They provided that knowledge and expertise to the city recreation board and council to prepare and present a 95 page  Recreation and Parks Master Plan report. Local interested and knowledgeable people contributed their input as participants on the steering committee;  Adrian Maplethorpe,  Brian Malmas, Dale Crabtree (council member), Don Elliot, Donna Juba, Kevin Lonsdale, Leslie Wilson and Terry Van De Kraats (county council).

The official motion presented to council in 2013 read “I Move That City Council approve the Recreation and Parks Master Plan for the City of Wetaskiwin.” Alderman McFaul, amended the motion to read “the Master Plan be accepted as information.” He later revealed he was nervous about potential commitment to the proposed recreation expenditures by approving rather than accepting the recreation plan. The amendment was defeated and the motion accepted.

Now, the city had a plan on what recreation needs should be expanded, when, and at what cost. The plan provided an analysis of use of recreation facilities by comparing Wetaskiwin to four similar Alberta communities.  The plan stated, “It is recommended that the City expands its role in providing support and engaging informal partnerships with community volunteer groups that are interested in the provision of publicly accessible recreation opportunities.”

Groups like the curling club and gymnastics club should have been able to feel a little more comfortable knowing there is a plan that identifies what facilities the city has, what they will need and how much it will cost. Still…how full with the chambers be on July 20 when administration files its report?

 

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