by Colin Smith
The future of the Morinville Community Recreation Facility will be unaffected by Sturgeon County’s decision to provide $500,000 toward the project rather than the $4 million sought by the Town, Mayor Barry Turner said Wednesday.
Sturgeon County’s $500,000 contribution was announced by County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw and Community Services Manager Susan Berry at the Tuesday meeting of Morinville Council. The decision was made by Sturgeon County Council earlier that day.
The announcement follows a July 10 presentation on the Community Recreation Facility made to Sturgeon County Council by Mayor Barry Turner and Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne that included a formal request for a $4 million financial contribution towards the project.
A news release issued Wednesday described Morinville Council as “disheartened” by the County’s response.
“While appreciative of the financial commitment and support, Town of Morinville Council has concerns with the $500,000 commitment as the expected rural use of the facility is projected at 35 to 40 per cent and the contribution by Sturgeon County represents approximately 1.6 per cent of the total costs of the facility and site,” the release stated.
However, according to Turner, the scale of the contribution will not have a major impact on the $30 million project.
“Council made the decision to build a project that the community can afford with no additional outside funding sources,” he stated. “Council did not feel that it was appropriate to risk the long-term financial stability of the community. We hoped for the best, and planned for the worst to ensure that the project would be a success regardless.
“The impact will come on the length of time required to affordably pay back the debentures. If we had received the $4 million as requested, it would likely have reduced the time frame required to pay back the loans by approximately five years.”
Morinville Council is concerned that the county’s decision is not keeping with the principle of the mandated Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) process, which is based in principal on rural jurisdictions contributing equitably to the costs of facilities used by its residents.
“The County of Sturgeon had the opportunity to be a partner in a regional project that will positively impact growth and economic development of the entire region,” said Turner. “Unfortunately, the decision was to maintain the status quo, which is the disjointed and inequitable funding of recreation.
“This is a blow to ratepayers throughout the region, who will benefit from a joint approach to funding recreation in a sustainable way. Our residents expect and deserve meaningful municipal collaboration, and we did not see that yesterday.”
Turner claimed that the County has a long history of under-funding, or not funding, recreation projects in urban municipalities within its borders, which results in the urban municipalities paying a vast majority of costs related to the capital and operating costs of recreation for residents.
“Historically, the funding received is significantly lower than the actual proportion of rural users,” he said. “Bottom line – same old story – urban taxpayers pay more, while rural residents can access the facilities without contributing to the capital costs.”
Turner added that while higher rates can be charged for non-residents, these typically still do not cover 100 per cent of operating costs, and if they did would make them unaffordable for most families.
“Our rural and urban residents deserve better!” he said. “We could have more amenities for all at a sustainable cost, but for some reason the County continues to choose an alternate route. Other counties in the Edmonton region typically fund up to 25 per cent of capital costs for these types of facilities. They see the benefit in it, but it seems lost here.”
Information from a public engagement process was one of the factors taken into account in the funding decision, Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said Thursday.
Between June 6 and July 6, feedback on funding for the Community Recreation Facility was provided by 541 Sturgeon County residents at six public drop-in workshops and through online surveys. The information collected was analyzed and a report prepared by consultant Tannis Topolnisky of Topent Ltd.
“Their feedback was loud a clear about their level of support for the facility,” Hnatiw stated. “The $500,000 is equitable as it aligns with the other contributions that have been made in our diverse community. Considering the majority of residents that participated in the public engagement activities wanted a lower level of support, we had to take that into consideration.
“I believe our response to this request, with the level of our input equaling the level of our investment is fair,” she said, adding, “For the municipalities that we have given capital funding to, within our borders, this $500K is consistent.”
Hnatiw said the figure for expected facility use of 35 to 40 per cent by rural residents is likely taken from Morinville Library usage.
“We will collect data from facilities and be able to make a factual determination as to what the true measurement of usage is, of recreation facilities, in all neighbouring municipalities so we can pay where we play.”
Along with the information derived from public engagement process, other factors taken into account in coming to the decision were the Regional Recreation Facility Master Plan, an analysis of the Community Recreation Facility business case, the principles of recreation cost share and Taxometer.
“The opportunities for this facility were many if you consider the two new schools being built and the interest for a pool in this area, but the people at that table at that point in time were too divided to cooperate and collaborate,” Hnatiw said.
“I trust that going forward we can set a new level of standard for what communication and collaboration looks like. Mayor Turner and I are committed to work together and we have that expectation of our administrations as well.”
The Morinville Council news release notes the financial commitment by Sturgeon County marks the single largest contribution towards Morinville recreation to date.