Two-tier rec fees meet mixed response

JOHN MOORHOUSE, Penticton Herald, 03/12/2009

Penticton city council‘s move to a two-tier recreation fee schedule has city officials scrambling to meet the June 1 implementation date.

In a bid to boost city revenues by an estimated $40,000, council wants out-of-town users of Penticton recreational facilities to be charged more than city residents. The new fees are designed to gain more revenue from residents who don‘t contribute tax money.

However, city administrator Leo den Boer said Wednesday details as to what form the two-tier system will take, have yet to be determined.

“There are a large number of questions which need answers before we can even consider implementing such a proposal,” he stated. “I would see staff reporting back to council at some point and seek further direction.”

Several questions were raised by staff in an internal city memo. It has not been determined how much more out-of-towners must pay. Residents on the West Bench already contribute $20,000 in annual taxes towards Penticton recreational programs.

Also, if non-city residents faced with higher user fees opt to not participate, total recreational revenues might decrease instead.

Compounding the issue is the fact that admission prices and program fees through to Aug. 31 have already been published in the city‘s spring and summer recreation guide which was released this week.

Mike Petrat of Summerland was among those working out Wednesday at the Penticton Community Centre fitness room. Petrat, who owns a business in Penticton, said he has mixed feelings about two-tiered fee schedules.

“If someone drives in from out of town because they prefer this gym, I don‘t see why they should be charged more,” he said.

Bill Schwarz, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen director for Area D (Okanagan Falls-Kaleden), said he can‘t argue too much over Penticton council‘s decision.

If Penticton feels it should go that route, there‘s not much anyone can do, he said. However, Schwarz doubts the Kaleden or OK Falls recreation departments will follow suit.

“They‘ve acknowledged the fact that a number of programs in Area D have people from Penticton participating,” he said. “Our position is we‘re not going to charge anybody any extra.”

Schwarz said the higher user fees should bring to light exactly how much Penticton recreational facilities are used by out-of-town residents.

The RDOS director said he has been involved in several negotiations with Penticton elected officials over the establishment of a sub-regional recreation board, but without success.

“As far back as 2003, they have not been prepared to give up their autonomy over their recreation facilities,” he said. “So I don‘t see how it could work to have a sub-regional recreation.”

Tom Chapman, RDOS director for Naramata, said he‘d rather see the higher out-of-town user fees than taxation.

“I think all of us realize that Penticton‘s got a huge recreation portfolio to pay for, particularly now. “I think a user pay system is the fairest way to do it,” he said.

“The city can‘t be expected to cater to our recreation needs É if we aren‘t contributing.”

Chapman, however, said the funding formula should take federal and provincial funding into consideration, since that comes from taxpayers in all communities.

“In these times, everybody is struggling to find a way to pay for things, and I think a user pay system is the fairest.” he said. “It‘s sad that it has come to that, but at the same time I can understand it.”

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