Sportsplex funding goes to fall referendum

Residents of the Cowichan Valley will be voting in a referendum in November whether or not they want to fund the Cowichan Sportsplex.

A marathon discussion at the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s regional services committee ended with a vote to recommend to the board (which is composed of the same people as the committee) to take the matter to the public on an area by area basis – meaning some, all or none of the areas may end up participating in the funding.

The Sportsplex has received funding from the regional district for a number of years through a grant in aid. The general concensus around the board table is that the time has come to decide whether the regional district wishes to make it a function, which would provide the Sportsplex with dependable, stable funding.

The CVRD’s senior policy advisor Jacob Ellis told the directors that staff began public consultations to take the temperature of the electorate in January. This included face-to-face community meetings as well as an online survey. There were 707 responses in all, with 495 people filling out the online survey, numbers that

Ellis characterized as "excellent" and "very positive overall participation."

Region-wide, the responses from the public indicated a willingness to fund the Sportsplex, Ellis reported. Generally, 63 per cent of respondents favoured funding the facility, while a specific $200,000 maximum requisition gained a 50 per cent favourable response.

Ellis admitted that the sample sizes in some areas were too small to really get a good idea of what the community in question thinks. For example, in North Oyster/Diamond responses were 100 per cent positive, but the number of participants was only 10.

"I disagree completely with your take on Area H’s answers here," said Dir. Mary Marcotte. "I have not heard one single positive thing on that."

Though staff recommended going to referendum as an entire region, the idea was quickly rejected by many of the electoral area directors.

Shawnigan Lake Dir. Bruce Fraser summed up the objections of many. "It would be quite illegitimate to bury the smaller electoral areas in a regional vote in which their votes would probably be insignificant," he said.

He likened it to Shawnigan Lake being "dragooned" into participating in funding for the new tourist information centre just outside Duncan.

Dir. Loren Duncan agreed. "I think we do need to respect those jurisdictions that do not want to participate," he said.

He was, however, concerned about what could happen to funding levels if several jurisdictions opt out.

His amendment to ask for a higher maximum requisition to make up for areas that vote "no" was defeated.

City of Duncan Mayor Phil Kent pointed out that the municipalities (Duncan, North Cowichan) that are geographically closer to the facility already pay more, as they fund the facility not only through the CVRD but through their own councils as well. This needs to be made clear in any information campaign on the referendum, he urged.

Other directors expressed frustration at the lack of regional thinking.

"I believe the Cowichan Sportsplex is a great facility," said Saltair Dir. Mel Dorey. "It’s needed in our area. It’s there for the Summer Games in 2018."

With everyone participating, he argued, the requisition (96 cents) is negligible and palatable to the voters.

Interim CAO Frank Raimondo summed up the desirability of thinking regionally.

"You group together because there are benefits beyond the group that’s actually participating," he said. "The benefits go

beyond the users. That’s the basis of what this regional system is all about."

"It’s not about protecting your patch," argued North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure.

"I would ask you to consider what you’re doing," he said, citing North Cowichan’s "yes" vote to contribute to the legal bill the CVRD is facing over the appeal of the South Island Aggregates contaminated soil issue in Shawnigan Lake as an example of opting in because it is the right thing for the region as a whole.

Similarly, Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins expressed exasperation that things such as the Cowichan Theatre, Social Planning Cowichan and Safer Futures are only paid for by some of the areas represented at the board table, though they all benefit from the services provided.

"I’m uncomfortable going forward with a regional facility not being funded by the region," he said. "When do we collectively say, ‘we are a community’?" These arguments were not enough to convince a majority of the directors. The board will make the final decision on a November area by area referendum at their next board meeting in July.