As Edmonton city council continues to work to put together a budget that will allow them to freeze property taxes, councillors voted Wednesday to save several pools and arenas from the chopping block.
Council voted unanimously to keep $1.2 million in the 2021 budget to save the Oliver, Scona and Eastglen pools as well as the Oliver and Tipton arenas.
“We’ve been able to find a few dollars to keep these facilities going for a few more years,” Mayor Don Iveson said of the aging facilities. “I do think that we need to look at some different options for how to program and market some of these facilities, even some of them potentially on an interim basis, while we look at facility replacements.
“I do think this question is going to keep coming up. There’s a reason administration keeps bringing these forward and that reckoning will come.”
The president of the Queen Alexandra Community League, who had joined forces with other community leagues this fall to oppose the closure of the facilities, tweeted her relief that council had voted to continue funding them.
“This is excellent,” Julie Kusiek tweeted.
“Thank you, #yegcc for hearing how important small facilities like this are to Edmontonians and to building the kind of city we’re aiming for in the City Plan.”
The facilities had been eyed for potential closure to save money as city councillors work to put together a budget that will allow them to freeze property taxes as many Edmontonians struggle financially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID(-19) is the time where we can really hit reset on this,” Iveson said of the city’s need to address the issue of aging recreational facilities.
The mayor also acknowledged the argument made by community leagues that if communities don’t want to lose residents, keeping functioning amenities in their neighbourhoods is important.
Councillors also discussed the prospect of alternative sources of funding for recreational facilities, possibly through partnerships with third parties. In the case of arenas, one councillor mentioned Hockey Edmonton has been identified as a possible partner to help operate some of them.
Council passed a motion 12-1 to have city administration study the feasibility of working with third parties to operate rec centres. Only Coun. Aaron Paquette opposed the motion, arguing that while he is in favour of keeping pools open, he is opposed to contracting out the operation of recreational facilities.
Coun. Tony Caterina said that he believes his constituents are not opposed to the city looking to work with outside parties to keep rec centres operating, as long as community access is not affected and the “public portion remains robust.”
City administration will put together a report on the matter to present to council in 2021.
City’s spay and neuter program to continue
City council voted unanimously Wednesday to keep the city’s $100,000 spay and neuter program after councillors had been asked to consider cutting it from the budget.
Coun. Jon Dziadyk said that while he commends city administration “for leaving no rock unturned” to help council find a way to freeze property taxes, he believed the program made sense to keep.
“For now, I don’t think this needs to be cut and it’s not very much money,” he said, noting that issues resulting from large numbers of feral cats can result in more costs “downstream” to the city.
“I’m suspecting that the cost of not doing this, though hidden, is significant,” Coun. Ben Henderson said.
Councillors are scheduled to reconvene to further debate the budget on Friday morning.
Watch below: (From Nov. 27, 2020) In pursuit of cost reductions and a zero percent tax increase, the City of Edmonton has to make a number of cuts to next year’s budget — and eliminating spay and neuter programs could be on the list. But animal rescue groups say eliminating a service that helps cut down on strays could have a disastrous effect. Sarah Ryan reports.
City of Edmonton considers eliminating spay and neuter programs to dismay of local rescues
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