Residents of Area E (Sahtlam/Cowichan Station/Glenora) have nixed the idea of paying more for the use of the Cowichan Aquatic Centre by way of the alternative approval process.
More than 650 residents signed forms opposing the increase. Only 10 per cent, or 340 valid signatures, were needed to stop the CVRD from increasing the tax that would have seen the CVRD collect $61,500 from the community annually as opposed to the current $23,000.
Area E Dir. Alison Nicholson said she was “quite dismayed” for her constituents who use the pool on a regular basis.
“There are many of them,” Nicholson said.
“I’ve heard from many people that they really value that facility. It’s an amazing asset in our community. I am dismayed that they may be facing going back to a two-tier system which is not really affordable for young families and seniors on a fixed income.”
Nicholson said this situation highlights the need for the board to have another crack at tackling an ages-old issue.
“We really ought to be thinking about regional recreation,” she said.
“It needs to be a seamless service and it’s not right now.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent shared Nicholson’s disappointment, saying users don’t see the invisible boundaries drawn by politics.
“I think that when we look at the area and the people that use the facility from all over the region, it’s really not a long distance for most to reach just about any facility in the Valley within a very short period of time, and they do that,” Kent said. “I think it’s disappointing that the municipalities that own the pool will have to consider the two-tier system [for Area E]. It’s not something that we relish or really willingly want to do but it needs to be considered.”
With significant turnover on the board after the last election, Kent feels the appetite might be there to finally break the deadlock and move ahead with regional recreation.
“Maybe we have a board here that can consider that and consider going to the public to ask that question on a regional basis,” he said “Maybe this is an opportunity.”
But not everybody was as enthusiastic.
Directors Ian Morrison (Area F – Cowichan Station South/Skutz Falls) and Mary Marcotte (Area H – North Oyster/Diamond) said while they’d be happy to take the issue to a public vote, they would not support regional recreation without their constituents’ clear consent.
“I am a firm believer in elector consent if we’re going to be spending their money,” Morrison said. “If we’re going to go and get elector consent…we should be doing it area by area and let those areas that want to join in and want to participate make a positive vote in a referendum so that it can be clear that [those that] want in will join and those areas that don’t, won’t.”
Marcotte “whole-heartedly” agreed, noting her residents would have to drive by a perfectly good pool in Ladysmith in order to use the Cowichan Aquatic Centre.
“If we go down this route to look at it all over again I think it would be much simpler to say ‘so who wants in and who thinks they want out’ and those that want in go off to referendum,” she said. “I would support giving the public a chance to have a true referendum area by area for those who want to participate and that this board not force people into an idea that isn’t acceptable or efficient.”
Dir. Klaus Kuhn (Area I – Youbou/Meade Creek) was opposed outright.
“We should only consider dinging the people that actually go,” Kuhn said. “There are not many people in Area I and I’m sure there’s not many in Area F that go to that pool. Part time owners don’t ever visit these facilities. They have homes that are very valuable and they pay through the nose for these facilities that they never even use.”
A long-time Valley politician, North Cowichan Dir. Tom Walker, challenged the board to consider stepping up to tackle regional recreation.
“I think if this board wanted to leave a legacy, that would be a real legacy,” Walker said. “If we solved regional recreation we would have accomplished one hell of a lot. I think we should deal with regional recreation once and for all.”
At Nicholson’s request, and the board’s not-at-all unanimous agreement, CAO Brian Carruthers said staff would start the process of gathering information to bring back to the board on the issue.