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Questions dive into Vernon recreation funding dilemma

Declassified financial information released by city
Services, such as The Aquatic Centre at the Vernon Recreation Complex, will have a new tiered user fee system in place in 2024, where residents of cities outside Vernon will pay more. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

The release of some declassified financial information is aimed at shoring up answers to Greater Vernon’s recreation services funding situation.

Vernon will be solely responsible for providing and funding recreation services for its residents as of Jan. 1, 2024 because the recreation agreement that is currently in place between Vernon, Coldstream and Regional District Electoral Areas B and C expires Dec. 31, 2023.

To provide clarification to the public on the next steps for recreation services, Vernon City Council has declassified financial information from the negotiation discussions that happened earlier this year.

“Vernon was at the table, ready and wanting to have fulsome discussions to reach a reasonable and equitable agreement for all parties involved,” said Mayor Victor Cumming.

The current agreement required participants to notify one another prior to the end of 2022 that they wanted to renegotiate. Those discussions then had to be complete by June 30, 2023, in order for the agreement to be extended beyond the end of this year.

“The end-of-year notifications happened, as anticipated, but despite Vernon’s best efforts to move negotiation discussions forward, no consensus could be reached by the deadline. Vernon reminded all other participants of the June 30 deadline on multiple occasions, meaning everyone was aware of the milestone date, which was critical – in part – to meet budget planning deadlines for the next fiscal year.”

Since the deadline passed Vernon is now investigating the implementation of a tiered user fee system, which will apply to all users of recreation services’ facilities, services and programs.

READ MORE: Vernon declines meeting, grant from partners over recreation services

“Again, City Council wants to reaffirm its invitation to all municipalities and Electoral Areas outside of Vernon – we welcome them to establish Fee for Service Agreements, if they would like their residents to receive recreation services at the same level as City of Vernon residents, with lower user fees and earlier access to program registrations.”

The funding formula for the agreement saw each jurisdiction responsible for covering a percentage of annual costs, plus the 2024 proposed change due to assessments:

Vernon: 68.4 - 65.7 per cent

Coldstream: 16.7 -17 per cent

Electoral Area B: 7.6 - 8.7 per cent

Electoral Area C: 7.3 - 8.6 per cent

“Due to the change in assessment values, and using the 2023 budget as a starting point for discussion, Vernon’s baseline contribution amount for 2024 decreased by approximately $110,000,” said Cumming.

“Coldstream’s baseline contribution amount increased by approximately $12,000, and Electoral Areas B and C would have had to pay an additional approximate $45,000 and $53,000, respectively. Those amounts are solely based on assessment values and do not take into account increased service and operational costs, nor the continued implementation of the Recreation Master Plan.”

Non-discretionary cost increases such as wages, wage competitiveness, insurance, mandated sick leave, and carbon tax are anticipated to be $226,019 for 2024, and were proposed to be shared proportionately between the four jurisdictions. Plus a $425,000 cost to continue implementing the Recreation Master Plan and addressing substantial population growth throughout the Greater Vernon area (more than 5,700 new residents between 2016 – 2021), and continue providing the level of service that has come to be expected by community members.

The total funding requested from each jurisdiction is:

Vernon $3,113,643 ($317,334 increase)

Coldstream $805,661 ($122,938 increase)

Area B $412,309 ($101,608 increase)

Area C $407,570 ($109,134 increase)

“The proposal provided to the other funding participants was based on hard costs, increased financial pressures that we’re all experiencing, and an objective to meet the minimum required service expectations of residents,” said Cumming.

“Council was disappointed that a renewed agreement could not be reached by the clearly identified deadline, but hopes we can still have productive and equitable discussions with our neighbours about the possibility of entering into Fee for Service Agreements, as we continue to see a desire for more sustainable and expanded sport, recreation, and wellness opportunities grow throughout the region.”

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

20-year-Morning Star veteran
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