Vernon councillors voiced their displeasure Monday, Feb. 24, upon learning the Vernon Aquatic Centre’s pool hours and fees would be affected after its neighbouring governments didn’t “pony up,” as Coun. Scott Anderson said.
But the District of Coldstream and two electoral area’s agreement shows the city could have prevented the changes.
The Greater Vernon Recreation service agreement, penned in 2014, allows the City of Vernon to fund operating shortfalls, such as lifeguarding costs, through its reserves funds, but the city said its requirement for a balanced budget at the year’s start was priority.
“With this, the city didn’t feel it was prudent to rely on reserves for an ongoing operational cost such as increased lifeguarding hours,” a statement from the city read.
Coldstream and Electoral Areas B and C contribute more than $1.1 million to recreation facilities through its service agreement with the City of Vernon, according to a report.
But after learning of the new requirements for an estimated 1,300 additional lifeguarding hours, the RDNO was presented with a request for $13,601 over and above its contributions in December 2019. The request was denied, the district’s report reads, as there was no desire to reopen the agreement for operational issues.
“Coldstream and Electoral Areas B and C instead confirmed the City of Vernon’s role in decision-making regarding recreation issues,” the report reads.
Once presented the requested changes, Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick and electoral area directors Bob Fleming (Area B) and Amanda Shatzko (Area C) asked Vernon’s recreation services to confirm the level of operating reserves and further suggested the additional costs be covered by that.
After the 2013-14 restructure, more than $6 million was transferred to the City of Vernon, the RDNO report reads. Nearly half of that went toward the Recreation Facility and Programs Reserve Fund.
The additional lifeguarding is estimated to require an additional 1,300 hours each year, costing an estimated $43,000 more than what was budgeted for the operation of the aquatic centre in 2020.
Each partner was asked to support its proportional share of the $43,000 needed for the additional lifeguarding hours: $6,801 for Coldstream, $3,400 each for Areas B & C and $29,444 for the City of Vernon.
To alter the agreement, a unanimous vote is required and while the city “respects the decision of its partners to not open the agreement, recreation services was then required to find other means to fund or resource the additional lifeguarding hours,” the city’s statement reads.
“In order to fund this shortfall responsibly, we advised against a drastic reduction of operating hours or a significant fee increase,” recreation services director Doug Ross said. “Instead, recreation services recommended a balanced approach by reducing limited operating hours and instituting a moderate fee increase.”
The adjusted hours will save around $23,000 in operational savings, while the four per cent increase in fees will cover the remaining $20,000 required.
The new fees are expected to take effect April 1, and changes to pool hours will begin March 2.
“While this is extremely unfortunate, individuals identified as being financially disadvantaged through our Affordable Access Pass program can still receive a 75 per cent discount when attending the normal public swim times,” Ross said.