Nanaimo council approves fee hikes for parks and rec fields, facilities

NANAIMO – Increased revenue will help pay for free programs

People who use Nanaimo’s parks and recreation facilities will be paying more starting September.

A six-month review and city council approval has resulted in an increase in user fees for many parks and recreation services in Nanaimo.

Council approved the bylaw in a 5-3 vote Monday to amend fees and rentals for many fields and facilities.

The new fee schedule, which sees increases from two to four per cent, goes into effect Sept. 1 and will expire Aug. 31, 2016. Fee schedules are revised every three years, though some fees go up annually while others remain stagnant for years.

General admissions to gyms, pools and arenas will increase six per cent over the next three years, according to a city report.

Coun. Ted Greves said costs need to be recovered somehow, using a $2.9 million annual shortfall at the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre as an example.

We’re very cognizant of the fact that money has to be raised one way or another,” he said. “I have an example of NAC operating expenses. They were $3.8 million, and if you add debt to that it comes to $4.5 million. The revenue we get from NAC is $1.6 million so that leaves us $2.9 million in the red that someone has to pay for. So fees only cover 35 per cent of the cost of operating NAC, so either it’s got to be the taxpayers who pay for it through their taxes or user pay.”

Beban Park requires taxpayer subsidies of more than $2 million annually.

Coun. Jim Kipp voted against the bylaw, saying the increases are significantly higher than recent cost of living increases, and that facilities are simply becoming to expensive.

I can’t support this currently. We looked at saying this increase is in the range of of cost of living and I heard (Sunday) the cost of living is 0.7 per cent. We talked about three and four per cent average on these increases. I just can’t support it.”

The fee hikes are intended to bring in an additional $50,000 in revenue annually.

To restrict it by continually trying to make it pay for itself … to gain $50,000, I mean we just talked about $200,000 to the businesses downtown. To me it’s getting too expensive for people to take their kids [to rec facilities],” said Kipp.

The increase in revenue will help pay for programs that allow people to use the facilities for free or at a deep discount. Currently, the Leisure Economic Access Program allows those who show they can’t afford it 50 free visits annually to rec facilities, people aged 80-plus are free, students in Grades 5 and 6 enjoy a free Swim to Survive program, and three-month, six-month and annual rec passes are sold at a heavy discount.

Greves said the 80-plus program was debated heavily, but at the end of the discussions was kept in.

“It’s hard to take these things out once they’re in,” he said.

Coun. Diana Johnstone, who sits as chairwoman of the parks, recreation and culture committee, said she felt the process has been well thought out over the past six months, while Coun. Bill McKay said new opportunities need to be pursued if the city is hesitant to cut services but wants to keep facilities affordable.

We need to consider new revenue streams, possibly corporate sponsorships,” said McKay. “Keep levels down low as opposed to constantly increasing them in the same old fashion.”

For a complete list of new fees, visit www.nanaimo.ca.

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