Sportsplex funding to go to referendum across the valley

Town to decide whether the issue is dealt with at council table or in a referendum in town

Lake Funding for the Cowichan Sportsplex in North Cowichan will go to a referendum this fall after the Cowichan Valley Regional District decided to go that route instead of the typical grant-in-aid process and allocation.

All nine CVRD electoral areas, including F (Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls and I (Youbou/Meade Creek) will go to the polls on the funding and decide whether or not they want to put any money into it at all.

The four municipalities of the CVRD, including the Town of Lake Cowichan, will decide whether or not to go to a referendum individually or decide on the matter at the respective council tables alone.

“At the last CVRD meeting, the board decided that the sportsplex funding would come off grant-in-aid,” said Coun. Bob Day. “It will go to a referendum and the municipalities either have a choice of handling it at the council table or going to a referendum in town too. I believe North Cowichan and Duncan will be doing their’s at the table. If it’s a ‘No’ we don’t have to pay.”

Lake Cowichan’s chief administrator Joe Fernandez said the town would need to decide by August whether the issue would go to a referendum or be a council decision.

“We are still waiting for some more information from the CVRD,” he said.

Catherine Brandon, the sportsplex’s executive director, said her society has been trying for the past four years to get its funding added as a line item on the CVRD budget, instead of having to go cap-in-hand every year looking for grants-in-aid.

“We’re excited about it going to referendum, and optimistic too, but we recognize there’s a risk,” she said. “We need people, if they believe in the sportsplex, to get out and vote, we hope they don’t get complacent.”

Last year, the complex recorded 200,000 visits.

The facility’s funding, “just shy,” of $400,000 comes from a mix of revenue, donations and local government contributions. This year, the CVRD contributed more than one-third of that: $145,111, down from last year’s $146,500.

Another third of the budget, about $130,000, comes from sportsplex fundraising, through events, advertising, rentals and proceeds from concessions.

“Fundraising is a fickle thing, the longer you’re around, the less excitement there is about the project, that makes it harder to fundraise,” Brandon said. “But we still have the community’s support.”

The remainder comes from the Municipality of North Cowichan, the City of Duncan and School District No. 79. Brandon said none of that funding is a line item in any organization’s budget. The society has to approach them every year.

“I can see why they started that way (dispersing grants), people were tentative about us, they thought, we’ll see how they do,” the executive director said. “But we’ve been here for a long time now and doing a fabulous job.”

The facility, she said, brings millions into the region, through events like 2005’s B.C. Seniors’ Games and 2008’s North American Indigenous Games. The B.C. Summer Games are coming in 2018.

“One important thing we want people to think about, we know that money is tight; people don’t want to pay more taxes,” Brandon said. “The thing is, we’ve been receiving the money for a number of years, so it’s not a tax increase, it’s moving from a grant in aid to a fixed line item. They’ve been supporting us for years, we just want to make funding more stable.”

At press time, the exact amount being proposed for each taxpayer to pay wasn’t available. However, CVRD documents prepared for the CVRD’s June 25 regional committee meeting state that if approved, the  society’s $152,000 in funding for 2015 would cost taxpayers with an assessed home value of $321,210, $3.31.

“That’s less than the cost of a specialty coffee a year,” Brandon said.

What would it mean if the society got its funding?

Brandon said they would be able to pay their five full-time and one part-time staff a living wage. It would also make it easier to see that the annual maintenance is done on the facility, to maintain its value as an asset.

The sportsplex, she said, is about much more than sports. It’s about health, camaraderie, and a place for seniors and families.

“Our tagline is, ‘we are the heart of a healthy community,’” she said.

How The Referendum Works

At its meeting July 9, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s board voted to hold nine separate referendums on Nov. 15 — the same date as B.C.’s municipal elections — in each of the CVRD’s nine electoral areas.

The area’s four municipalities — Duncan, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan and North Cowichan would not be included in the vote.

According to Kathleen Harrison, the CVRD’s deputy corporate secretary, by rejecting a regional bylaw, instead choosing to go with nine separate referendums, asking the same thing, there’s no authority to force the municipalities to hold a vote. The municipalities can decide whether they want to participate or not.

A staff recommendation to go to referendum as an entire region was rejected by many of the electoral area directors at a previous meeting.Results from the referendum would then go to the CVRD board, which would vote on each referendum result, deciding whether they wanted to accept them.

Each referendum is expected to cost between $8,000 and $10,000 per area.

 

-with files from Kathy Santini