A recreation bylaw that was given first, second and third readings in November 2015 to increase recreation fees and charges over a five-year period was met with more contentious discussion at its adoption in last week’s Prince Rupert city council meeting.
The Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 3383 was adopted after much debate over its effects on a community already feeling the pinch of a capped community enhancement grant process, job losses in the fishing industry and library service reduction.
The bylaw, which increases user fees gradually over the next five years and also establishes a reserve fund for infrastructure upkeep (using an allocated five per cent of all fees and admissions), was disputed by Coun. Gurvinder Randhawa, who felt that a break in price for youth recreation users is warranted, since not all families can consistently pay user fees.
“If somebody has no money or no place to go to use the Internet or play games, I don’t think we are giving the right message, I am not in favour of [the hike],” said Randhawa.
Coun. Joy Thorkelson additionally voiced her concern for the low-income families who may need to identify themselves as such to receive access to the civic centre’s Recreation Access Program – an initiative to help families with financial barriers use the facility that provides 50 free admissions per year and a $300 subsidy toward registered courses.
“I’ve always had a problem with ‘Everybody gets to play’ because you have to identify yourself as being poor. You get sick and tired of identifying yourself. You go to the Food Bank [or use the bus], you have to identify as low-income or a welfare recipient. Everywhere you go, it seems like you have to identify yourself,” she said.
“We need to make sure that these [low-income families’] kids are off the street and in there playing and not being embarrassed [when asked to identify as low-income].”
However, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain responded that no one has to announce that they’re low-income and it’s not the way the program works.
“There is access for everybody in this community to use the recreation centre … We need to have a scaled model for the town. It provides certainty, it shows where we’re going. We need to start having consistency in our planning and our budget,” said Brain.
“Everybody’s going to have the opportunity to play. It won’t break people.”
Coun. Blair Mirau was specifically concerned about the longevity and lifetime of the centre itself.
“The one issue we haven’t talked about is if we are to adjust our rates and we’re trying to keep user fees as low as possible, the facility itself is going to suffer and that is going to have the same impact as a massive increase in price. We have to strike the balance where you want to have minimal increase in price to not significantly impact the user base, but by the same token, we need to be able to reinvest in the facility to a certain extent so that it doesn’t get to such a point where it’s unsafe or to a point where people don’t want to participate because of the quality of the facility,” added Mirau.
The bylaw passed with all in favour of the motion except Randhawa and Thorkelson, who were in opposition.