At its meeting last night, North Cowichan passed this motion:
"WHEREAS the Municipality of North Cowichan supports working with the Cowichan Valley Regional District to develop a regional recreation funding model;
AND WHEREAS the Municipality of North Cowichan recognizes that the Two Tier Fee Structure at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre is a barrier to increasing access to recreational, skills and social development programs for all citizens in the region:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Municipality of North Cowichan, working with its partners, aim, through discussion, to put in place a single fee policy for the Cowichan Aquatic Centre before the end of 2012."
The Cowichan Aquatic Centre has been one of the hot topics in local valley politics for the last six years.
It was hoped that everyone in the CVRD would pay a share on their taxes for this regional facility, through some kind of regional recreation model -- yet so far, the capital and debt costs, as well as operational costs of the pool, are paid for by three partners: North Cowichan, Duncan and Cowichan Tribes.
Valley residents in areas of the CVRD that don't already pay for a pool on their taxes pay a higher cost at the gate -- unless they annually purchase an access card, which entitles them to the lower fees. Unfortunately, this has resulted in declining numbers of patrons and consequently declining revenues at the pool.
North Cowichan Council heard from one taxpayer at yesterday's meeting who opined that many families find the fee for the access card too steep, and are taking their business elsewhere. She pointed out that for it to pay off for her family, they would have to use the pool three times a week.
I empathize with her, and with all those who find that access fee onerous; and I would prefer it if everyone paid the same rate for the pool. And the reality is that if and when North Cowichan, Duncan and the Tribes decide to drop the two-tier pool fees without regional buy in, their taxpayers will be the ones paying more to access the pool. North Cowichan property owners pay $50 per $100,000 of assessed value directly to the pool, whether they use it or not.
Last night, Council directed staff to prepare a report outlining whether there is business case for dropping the two-tier system, in advance of a meeting with its partners to discuss the issue.
This is one of the taxation topics that I feel it's important for residents of the municipality and Valley to understand -- though I myself am still struggling to completely understand it.
It's complicated. Under the current recreation funding model, how much you pay for recreation overall depends on where you live. For instance, if you live in Saltair, you pay $10 a year (per $100,000 of assessed value); if you live in Cowichan Bay, you pay $129.
The other areas range somewhere in between:
Area F - $106,
Area I - $106,
Cobble Hill - $91,
Duncan - $99,
Glenora - $57,
Ladysmith - $92,
Lake Cowichan - $106,
Mill Bay - $88,
North Cowichan (North end) - $69,
North Cowichan (South end) - $117,
North Oyster - $15,
Shawnigan Lake - $122.
(These figures are taken from the CVRD 2012 - Cowichan Valley Regional Recreation Funding document.)
I can't begin to tell you in one blog post how all of this came about. I'm pretty certain it was meant to create fairness and equity throughout the region.
The question is -- has it ?
As one North Cowichan taxpayer recently pointed out in a letter to Council (speaking about the pool and the sportsplex) -- "We all pay for hospitals and schools, even if we don't use them. Recreation is essential to a healthy and prosperous community, but no they say, [meaning CVRD directors and residents] let North Cowichan pay for it." [meaning the pool]
-- Rob Stanley, Maple Bay
I should point out that CVRD residents use other North Cowichan financed facilities, such as the new ball fields, at no charge -- neither per use nor via taxation.
I look at the current recreation funding formula in the Valley and I shake my head.
Is it really fair that Cowichan Bay residents pay 13 times as much as Saltair residents?
I'm curious to hear from people around the Cowichan Valley on this issue.
* What do you think about two-tier fees at the pool? About regional recreation funding in general? If you live in one of the CVRD electoral areas, would you be willing to pay for the pool on your taxes?
* Do you think North Cowichan and its partners should drop the two-tier system? Should residents of the Valley who don't pay for the pool on their taxes get in for the same price as those who do?
* What ideas do you have to make the pool funding equitable and affordable for all?
If you don't feel you have enough information on recreation funding, call or write your Area Director or a Council member. And consider taking a read through the report linked above.
I look forward to hearing from you. Together we can make this valley a vibrant, resilient community of communities that collaborate and cooperate on those wonderful things that make up a healthy civil society.