Three of Penticton’s representatives on regional district say finding a way to collect money from neighbouring communities to offset the costs of recreational facilities is a high priority going into the next four years.
Mayor John Vassilaki, along with Coun. Frank Regehr and Coun. Jake Kimberley, all campaigned during the recent municipal election that collecting funds for amenities like arenas, community centres and other recreational facilities was a must for the city.
Chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Karla Kozakevich said the issue has surfaced several times over the last decade, and most likely before, but that no formal requests or reports have come from the City of Penticton.
“It’s been discussed in previous years, and it’s been a question on our citizen’s survey, and each time it’s posed it comes back that people are not in favour of being taxed for facilities in neighbouring communities, but are in favour of an increased user cost if they use those facilities,” she said.
“It’s a discussion that we want to have so that everybody understands what can be done, but ultimately it will go out to our residents and they will decide, because if you’re setting up a service area to tax, you have to get the public’s approval.”
Vassilaki said it would be a bit of time before the idea would come to a council table, Penticton’s or at the RDOS, as time is needed to settle in, but he planned to raise the issue sometime in 2019.
In the meantime, he hoped to have informal discussions between Penticton and surrounding areas such as Area E, (Naramata), Area F, (West Bench), Area D, (Okanagan Falls, Skaha Estates, Vaseux Lake), and possibly Area I (Twin Lakes, Marron Valley and Apex).
“We can’t do things overnight. It hasn’t been done for 30 or some years. We have to take our time and do it properly, so everybody is going to be happy and we are still going to be friends,” he said.
He noted he brought the issue up last time he was on council however, “it died before it got started, but it’s time we looked at it seriously this time.”
He noted it might be difficult to get rural taxpayers to vote to increase their taxes to pay Penticton since, “nobody wants to pay more in taxes,” he said with a laugh.
Regehr said user fees alone never pay for recreational facilities and outside communities need to help pay to keep them running.
He referenced a parks and recreation report that outlined “close to 20 per cent of the use of facilities are from residents outside the city’s limits,” he said.
Ideas swirling around include the areas transferring a lump sum to the city, like West Bench does to help support the library, or increasing the fee structure at facilities to include an out-of-town rate.
Residents of West Bench have been providing the city with $20,000 annually to help operate the library.
The transfer payment ceiling was set in 1979 and has not increased.
Kimberley said the amount West Bench contributes should be re-looked at since it has not changed in almost 40 years and that a lump sum transfer is the way to go.
“That (West Bench) payment has never been negotiated and of course population has changed,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, yeah, it’s going to be on the agenda in 2019.”
He noted he preferred a lump sum payment as an out-of-town fee structure puts burden on city employees to identify residents and could cause friction with some users.
To create a lump sum system, a service area would need to be created, which would need public approval either through referendum or assent process.
Kimberley said if the public chose the fee structure it could cost individuals much more than an annual tax.
“If the residents say no to the lump sum option then of course the city will turn around and say, ‘It’ll be a fee when you use it.’ And the fee could be more than what it would have been as a lump sum. Say it was, for argument’s sake, $1.50 tax per house per year for all, that’s not a lot, but if you go every week to the pool and the increase for out-of-town is $1.50 to $3, again for argument’s sake, then you’re paying a lot more,” he said.
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