Regional Council

City reins in rec centre governance

Regional council wants more control over budgets

Councillors at Regional Council meeting
Councillors at regional council meeting   Sindi Skenderi

Halifax regional council voted Tuesday to assume more control over its big recreational centres.

It agreed to take on the debt that has been racked up by community-run recreational centres, and oversee all budget management for the centres in the future.

While the municipality will oversee the budget and costs of the rec centres like the Canada Games Centre and Cole Harbour Place, the already-in-place community boards will still play a key part in running the centres and the activities that take place in them.

Brad Anguish, the municipality’s Director of Parks and Recreation, said it is impractical to continue leaving the rec centres in the communities’ hands, as the city has done so far, since “the debt on community-run rec centres is nearing $7 million.”

The council was clear to state that they were unsure of how the already high $7 million debt would be absorbed.

Councillor Waye Mason said rec centres used to be run by community boards which would work hard to make sure the facilities were self-sustainable and make sure 100 per cent of the costs were covered. But this sometimes led to the rec centres not providing the services they were supposed to provide.

Council on Tuesday recognized that the municipality would only be in charge of the budgetary side of the recreational centres, but made clear to Anguish that they would need to work together with the staff of the facilities if any changes needed to take place.

As recommended in the staff report, the municipality will be in charge of the following items:

1 Create a regional advisory committee, separate from the already-in-place community boards

2 Absorb the outstanding operating and capital debts of the rec centres (to-date it’s $7 million)

3 Audit the operation of the facilities

4 Create cost efficiencies for members paying for the services of the facilities.

The vote by council was close, with 10 councillors voting to take control of the budgetary side of the rec centres and six voting against, leaving the communities essentially in charge of them, including allocating finances.

Mike Savage
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage talking to staff during meeting   Sindi Skenderi

In other business, council voted in favour of a recommendation submitted by Councillor Bill Karsten, chair of the Audit & Finance Standing Committee, to create a grants program for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion and to let a committee distribute the funds.

Councillor Jennifer Watts said, “I think it’s signaling to our community that we’re starting to really support local community groups.”

On the same note, council also agreed to Councillor Waye Mason’s proposal to spend $10,000 to $15,000 to create a commemorative emblem for the 100th anniversary.

Councillor Steve Craig added, “I think it’s money well spent.”

During the meeting, council also voted to leave Taxi and Limousine rates untouched for the upcoming fiscal year. For 2013 and 2014 the taxi rate has gone up about 1.5 per cent every year.

Courtney Robinson, a student at Dalhousie University, said that sometimes students have to take taxis to get around the city, and she would think twice about taking them if they’re too expensive.

Robinson said, “especially as young people walking at night, you should feel like you can take a taxi if you want one.”

Council also agreed to the request of the Board of Police Commissioners to increase Royal Canadian Mounted Police funding by $250,000 to pay for two crime analysts on their team.

In a formal request to council, Police Chief Blais said Halifax Regional Police is limited with a single crime analyst and that another one in the RCMP would help the crime analysis department by at least 50 per cent.

Also during the meeting, council passed a report on the Deed Transfer Tax. This means that municipality can now amend the policy of collecting the tax from homebuyers.

While councillors voted for amending the policy, Councillor Mosher said, “If you take [the tax] away, we’ve got to decrease services or increase taxes. I can’t support this.”

The vote passed 14 to two.