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Recreation comes with higher price for West Shore

Feb 08 2012

Tensions over how West Shore public recreation programs should be run are resurfacing amid an effort to get more money from the region's municipalities.

The six communities that make up the West Shore Parks and Recreation Society are considering a 5.48 per cent overall increase to their annual contributions for recreational services in 2012, which would bring their combined bill for the year to $4.70 million.

The balance of the $9.65-million budget comes from user fees and other revenue.

More money is needed to pay for maintenance and higher wages, say society staff, who contract to provide service for the joint ownership group of Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands and the Juan de Fuca electoral area. Society facilities include Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, Bear Mountain Arena, Juan de Fuca golf course and Centennial Centre.

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns was the first to criticize the proposed increase; he is calling for an independent audit of parks and recreation facilities and their finances. "We need to find out if our facilities are being maintained as required by the contract between the owners and the society," he said.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton has similar concerns. Her community is facing the largest increase, jumping 11 per cent or $113,000 from last year.

Each community's contribution is based on annual property assessments and population. Langford pays the most, with a projected cost of $2.29 million for 2012, followed by Colwood at $1.13 million.

"I'd like to see what has driven it that high," Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Ranns said they would also like to see improvements to the society's operations. "We need more drive from the staff down there to market our facility," Hamilton said.

"We are operating pretty darn tight," said society administrator Linda Barnes. "We'd have to look at major cuts to staff if we wanted to go further."

Maintenance costs could reach about $1 million, Barnes said. That, along with higher wages, accounts for most of the increase.

Other municipal officials defended staff for controlling expenses during difficult economic times.

"When you don't have the money, you have to cut," said Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton, who is on the society's board of directors.

The ongoing debate underscores the need to change the society's governance model, some say. Any member of the ownership group has a veto on capital spending, meaning one community can stop a project every other municipality supports.

"We've tried for years to get more recreation opportunities [at Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre], but there is always somebody who doesn't want to move ahead," said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

A consultant's report on the society's governance model is expected in spring.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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