After the third meeting of a regional-recreation working group looking into a cost-sharing agreement for Powell River Recreation Complex, representatives remained positive but cautious about the direction of the talks.
“The devil is in the details,” said City of Powell River chief administrative officer Mac Fraser. “For decades, [Powell River] Regional District and the city have been at odds about whether the regional district was paying its fair share.”
Two of the three governments engaged in the talks were at the table on December 1: the city and regional district. The group’s third member, Tla’amin Nation, was absent and hegus Clint Williams said he could not comment until reviewing new information presented at the meeting.
Discussions focused on a financial snapshot of what a cost-sharing arrangement between the three governments might look like for the recreation complex, as well as governance options and consequences of one electoral district’s commitment to a referendum.
“It was a good, open discussion,” said regional district board chair and Electoral Area A director Patrick Brabazon, who has indicated a referendum on the issue will take place in his area. Currently, the city pays approximately two-thirds of the $4.1-million operating budget for the recreation complex.
“What we're talking about is the regional district electoral areas paying into a service they've had the benefit of at no cost for many years,” said Fraser.
City director of parks, recreation and culture Ray Boogaards reviewed information on the recreation complex’s 2017 actual operating budget that show an expenditure of about $3.4 million, revenue of $1.2 million and a net operating cost of $2.2 million.
Boogaards said that, moving forward, a cost-sharing model would reflect Tla’amin Nation contributing five per cent ($109,311), the regional district paying 25 per cent ($546,557) and the city covering 70 per cent ($1.4 million).
"It was such a positive meeting,” said Boogaards. “It seems like there’s a real keen interest to continue the discussions.”
Boogaards, along with regional district and city management, were asked to bring back more detailed information to the group at a later date.
“Anytime we're down to the exact numbers and what's the governance structure, that excites me,” said Fraser. “Now we're talking details.”
Fraser said it was his view that money cannot be discussed in isolation from governance of the recreation complex. At a previous meeting, Fraser advanced the idea of a regional governing model with representation from the three regional governments sitting on a recreation commission.
While Brabazon said the regional district is not going to rush into anything, he presented another possibility previously put forward by Electoral Area B alternate director Alan Rebane, and one that Brabazon, Rebane and Electoral Area C director Colin Palmer have discussed.
“Forgo the governance model and make an annual cash grant to the complex,” said Brabazon, “presumably on a three-year or five-year term, with an option to review it at the end of that term.”
That structure is similar to the one for Powell River Public Library, according to Fraser, whereby the regional district, which benefits from the services, splits the operating costs on a population basis.
“As far as governance is concerned, the library agreement works,” said Brabazon. “It works for us and it works for the library and I hope it works for [the city].”
Fraser said the city is excited about discussions to have some funds coming to help with operation of the recreation complex.
“Can we be picky about whether it’s all of what we want, or some of what we want?” he said. “That is for further discussion.”
Cost-sharing talks can still be easily sidetracked by Brabazon’s promise to Electoral Area A residents that there will be a referendum.
“We have to assume a negative vote in a referendum would end the discussions,” said Brabazon.
Palmer said if Electoral Area A goes to referendum then areas B and C will have to do the same.