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City Budget Bulletin #1: Recreation Centres

Property tax increases, on top of increased taxes, fees, and other costs from all orders of government, are pushing many Edmonton businesses to the breaking point. The City of Edmonton is currently developing its 2019-22 operating budget, which will be released in November 2018.

The Edmonton Chamber has struck a Municipal Budget Task Force to work with the City, to represent the interests of job creators, to find areas where the City can achieve savings, and to avoid further property tax increases.

This is the first in a series of City Budget Bulletins through which we will be raising awareness and proposing solutions – please share them and let the Mayor and Council know how important it is to hold the line on property tax increases in the upcoming municipal budget.

Pictured above: Edmonton – The Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre, 114,100 sq.ft.

Recreation facilities in Edmonton are built and operated in numerous ways, ranging from entirely public to entirely private or non-profit.  For larger community recreation facilities, however, the City usually owns the property and pays for all or part of the construction, but then has a choice about whether to operate the facility or partner with groups like the YMCA who operate without subsidies.

In the 2016-2018 operating budget, we see that the net operating cost of community recreation facilities (i.e. beyond what is recovered by user fees) has grown from $38 million in 2013 to $55 million in 2018, a 41% increase.  It is worth questioning whether providing the quality facilities citizens deserve can be better achieved by the City partnering more often with other organizations.

The largest recreational facility operator in Edmonton, outside of government, is the YMCA.  Over the years the YMCA has partnered with the City of Edmonton to design, build and construct community recreation facilities, including Jamie Platz Family YMCA in the west end, the William Lutsky Family YMCA  in the South, the Castle Downs Family YMCA in the north and the Don Wheaton Family YMCA in downtown Edmonton. Once the facilities have been constructed and opened, the YMCA provides a full range of programming and services for the community and public, with prices very similar to what the City charges. These centres are self-sufficient and do not require any form of City subsidy. In other words, taxpayers are not on the hook for programming, facility operations, refurbishments, or maintenance.

Pictured above: Calgary – The Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge, 284,000 sq.ft.

The most recent major recreation centres built in Edmonton (Terwillegar and The Meadows) are operated by the City, and are contributing to the 41% increase in net operating costs. In Calgary, by contrast, an RFP process was used and as the City of Calgary explains it:

“The City of Calgary has had success using a third-party operated model for recreation facilities. This model is aimed at ensuring the sustainability of these facilities without the need for additional public funding for operations, lifecycle and capital expansion costs. Using this model, the operator is responsible for cost-recovery and establishing reserves while ensuring goods and services are within market pricing.”

Calgary’s last RFP was for four facilities of varying sizes, and each found a successful third-party operator, with the YMCA being chosen for three of them.Budget Questions for the City:

  1. What has been the rationale for not using RFPs to find independent operators for recent recreation facilities?
  2. Can the City deliver quality recreation or other facilities without adding to the tax burden by partnering with others?
  3. Will the City, as a default position, use an RFP process for future recreation facilities to find independent operators who can match the City on accessibility and programming without requiring tax increases to cover operations?

Let us know what you think of this Bulletin and, if you agree, contact the Mayor and Council. Tell us how property taxes have affected you and any savings or other ideas you have for making Edmonton more competitive for business.

Contact us at policy@edmontonchamber.com

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