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Port aux Basques council to re-address Bruce II registration policy

Changes to registration policy for some Bruce II sports programs, such as swimming, were implemented by Port aux Basques council earlier this year but are still being reconsidered.
Changes to registration policy for some Bruce II sports programs, such as swimming, were implemented by Port aux Basques council earlier this year but are still being reconsidered. - Photo courtesy of John Rene Roy

Two-tier registration amendment caused social media backlash

Mayor John Spencer says council is still working on the registration policy for some programs at the Bruce II Sports Centre.

The 2-tier system, which would see out-of-town users register after Port aux Basques residents, proved largely unpopular on social media when it was adopted by council in Jan. 2018. Spencer has been working with councillors and representatives of other communities around the region to come up with a more agreeable solution.

Despite that, his recent proposal for an amendment to the 2-tier registration system did not get seconded during the March 27 meeting of council, and was therefore not debated, but Spencer advises that is not the end of the matter.

“Because the motion was not seconded that does not mean it cannot be introduced again," wrote Spencer via email. "A motion before council must be seconded to be able to move to the debate stage. It is after the debate stage that a vote for, or against, the motion can be taken. At the next regular council meeting on April 17, a motion for a single registration for swimming lessons at the Bruce II will once again be introduced. Until then, the single registration prior to the change in January will still remain in place.”

The upcoming motion will propose an added fee for out-of-town users, but some communities have already indicated they will pick up that extra cost for their residents who avail themselves of these programs.

“The proposal to amend the policy reverting to a single registration for swimming lessons at the Bruce II Sports Complex involves a duel payment component," wrote Spencer. "This proposal had been presented to, and supported in principle, by Cape Ray, Isle aux Morts, Burnt Islands and Rose Blanche (Harbour Le Cou). These communities agreed to pick up the extra payment as a recreation incentive for families within each community.”

While residents of several communities will get help with the added fee, those in non-participating areas will have to pony up the extra charge if they wish to register for some programs.

“For other areas who do not participate, and for individual families outside of an organized governing structure, the extra payment of 25 per cent above the cost of registration will be the responsibility of the individual participants,” Spencer noted.

Currently the bulk of the operating costs for the Bruce II Sports Centre are assumed by residents of Channel-Port aux Basques.

Provincial comparison of community pool operations

By John Spencer, Mayor

On the surface the assignment appeared easy. Complete a quick survey to see how other towns in the province are doing in relation to pools and how are access, cost and operations shared within a region. In reality, it was not easy to determine. Just as one can encounter three seasons in a drive from Port aux Basques to Corner Brook, the same exists in pool setups in the province.

City-operated pools in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, where the border between jurisdictions gets a little blurred, policies on usage for some facilities clearly differentiate between resident/non-resident. For Mount Pearl it was a capacity issue. Residents from surrounding areas were registering children for swimming while local residents were being left out. The solution was a staggered registration system giving preference to local residents.

Stephenville was considered to have a regional pool with the communities of Stephenville, Kippens. Port au Port East and Port au Port West sharing operation costs. For example, the tiny community of Kippens contributes $60,000 annually toward the pool that is located in Stephenville. That is an exceptional contribution from a small community considering Kippens has a population ranging around 2,000 residents. However, there were other communities in the catchment area using the facility, and for whatever reason, did not contribute.

Corner Brook and Gander are unique. These communities have provincially-operated pools within the municipal boundaries. As some would boast, a model for the whole province, particularly rural Newfoundland. These pools, constructed in another era, are housed in provincial arts and cultural Centres. The buildings are provincially staffed, maintained and operated. Provincial coffers give these facilities an advantage in relation to costs for users.

However, the City of Corner Brook has a serious capacity/service concern in attempting to meet aquatic demand. Corner Brook residents, and surrounding communities, historically had the use of Memorial’s Grenfell College pool. That facility has closed leaving civic planners looking at options. One option is a new regional facility. While the City would look forward to such a development, the scope of the project cannot happen on its own. Regional sharing is the new reality, or the City will go on its own with a scaled back model for its residents.

Rocky Harbour is another unique operation. Their aquatic centre is within Parks Canada jurisdiction. It is a seasonal operation coinciding with the summer seasonal operation of the National Park.

A similar seasonal operation exists in St. Anthony. It is a pool solely operated and maintained by the Town of St. Anthony open only during the summer.

The pool in Wabush is a year-round operation. However, town officials are struggling financially since the closure of the mine. The annual subsidy for the pool is in the $900,000 range. Currently, Labrador City, which had contributed financially in the past, has disputed their share of the cost of the pool in Wabush. This pool is the only available pool in the area with, according to Wabush town officials, Labrador City residents being the heaviest users.

The Deer Lake pool is considered a regional facility but not in the manner that Stephenville operates. The regional designation was a condition in the initial construction of shared funding with one third split for federal, provincial and municipal dollars. Ownership and operations are solely the responsibility of the Town of Deer Lake. The year-round operation has a large catchment range encompassing many communities east, west, and north of the town. There is no regional agreement. Deer Lake residents in 2017 picked up the annual subsidy nearing $160,000.

The pools in Grand Falls and Marystown are both owned and subsidized by their respective communities. However, both are operated through contracts with the YMCA. These recreation facilities, housing more than pools, operate year-round on a membership and drop-in fee structure. Programs such as swimming lessons are limited to members. For Marystown, surrounded by many communities with similar geographic, economic and demographic factors, providing the only swimming facility with an annual subsidy of $500,000 presents challenges.

The same membership operation provided by the YMCA exists in Grand Falls. The town provides an annual grant of $25,000 to help with operations. Meanwhile, Grand Falls owns the building and picks up all capital costs associated with keeping the operation going. Recent successes by the Y in an expanded day care program resulted in a request to the town for an additional $140,000 to cover the annual electrical costs.

The pool in Carbonear is owned and operated by the town. All programs are open to the entire Trinity-Conception area. Everyone in the region, encompassing other communities, are subject to the same user fees and opportunities to register for programs. The annual subsidy paid by the Town of Carbonear runs above $300,000. Several years ago, the town decided to implement a Carbonear-first policy. Faced with a backlash from surrounding communities and realizing the demand from its own citizens was not enough to warrant such a move, a motion on preference and fees was rescinded.

Other communities, similar to Port aux Basques in size such as Clarenville, Bay Roberts, and Bonavista do not have community pools operating year-round. Clarenville’s pool is found in a local hotel. Bay Roberts has a pool operating only during the summer season. Bonavista does not have a pool but are in the process of constructing a splash pad. Its escalating construction costs are now in the $250,000 range. That is considerably lower when compared to the Town of Paradise where a new splash pad came in at over a million dollars excluding a pump house with all the components.

The reality of the cross-Newfoundland survey saw each jurisdiction as a having its differences. However, common denominators did surface. These were associated with high costs in construction, operation and maintenance. Pools by their very nature do not come cheap and are plagued with high maintenance costs. Like a vessel at sea, anything constantly immersed with water puts stressors on everything it needs to stay operational.

Another observation is despite pools being utilized by many communities in their respective regions, costs to maintain operations were unevenly shared.

While assigning a dollar value of a pool within a region may appear on the surface to be easy, in reality, it is not. The difficulty is determining a fee structure on how much each community should pay. It is a balancing act encompassing the reality of costs versus the value of having a pool within a community. There are always the immeasurable benefits to a town. For example, the spin offs from increased sales as a service sector cannot be ignored. As well, decisions by many families as to where they will live hinges heavily on health, education and recreation facilities. The community of Port aux Basques ranks high on all three. Doctors, dentists, teachers, and other professional services that benefit the entire region are attracted by the level of service in this area. All new residents attracted by, and creating services, bring positives to an area. Yes, communities such as Port aux Basques, Stephenville, Deer Lake and Marystown are struggling with increased recreation costs. This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes we must look at the bigger picture seeing the benefit of recreation as essential in our health, wellness and a region’s future.

All communities are struggling with diminishing resources. The challenge for municipal leaders is to find creative ways through regional collaboration to maintain facilities, promoting greater usage and have an entire region buy into it.

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