Regular fees for rural Cowichan Lake residents at the Duncan pool may still be possible.
There will just have to be more talk first.
Last week’s deal that saw the pool’s two-tier fee system waived for residents of the Town of Lake Cowichan in exchange for a $3,000 tax contribution caught Youbou (Area I) Director Pat Weaver by surprise.
Though Weaver said she believes there is still a strong possibility of a future deal for Youbou in the future, uncertainty has prevented one so far.
“I didn’t know what the cost was going to be,” she said, adding people in her community seem split on the issue.
“Part of our people want to be into the pool and some don’t. I thought there was going to be some kind of referendum where our people would say where they wanted their tax dollars to go.
“It’s a very delicate topic. In my area there’s a lot of retired people. As Cowichan Lake is such a beautiful place to live, it entices retirees to come up here. My job now is to get the best deal for Area I taxpayers, of which I am one. The question has to be asked where do the people want their dollars to go.”
Weaver says she has plans for a public meeting to be held in her area in February.
“That meeting was supposed to be mainly about the Native Habitat Fund but absolutely people can bring it (aquatic centre fee talks) up. I’ve heard quite a bit from the people already, both positive and negative,” she said.
Cowichan Lake South (Area F) Director Ian Morrison is on the same wavelength as Weaver and confirmed that talks are still ongoing.
“We are still engaged in a process with the aquatic centre operators,” he said. “Those are confidential discussions but it is an irritant, we’d like to eliminate the two-tier fee structure. There’s more work to be done but I’m thrilled for the residents of the Town of Lake Cowichan, that’s great news.
“Some people want to have the same access but I also hear the counter to that regarding tax bills. Electoral areas don’t have pockets of money to dip in to. Municipalities can borrow money from their disposal budget to cover unexpected snow clearing costs for example. If we are to create a new service, we need electoral consent. If you’re going to send taxpayers money to the other side of Hill 60, you have to ask for their consent by an Alternative Approval Process or referendum.”
Morrison also emphasized any perceptions that Areas F and I were acting as stumbling blocks for the Town of Lake Cowichan in the negotiations are not true.
“There’s been a bit of a misperception in the press with how things have transpired,” he said. “Director Weaver and I have been engaged in discussions for months now and it’s taken up a lot of time, effort and energy.
“The perception was that the town kept ongoing and we stopped, and I’m challenging that. We’ll continue to have dialogue with the aquatic centre.”
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure has already declared his hope that Areas F and I have the two-tier fee structured eliminated as well.
“I am hopeful that in the near future we can reach an agreement to eliminate two-tier fees for the citizens of Areas F and I so they can enjoy the Cowichan Aquatic Centre at the same rates enjoyed by residents of the current partners,” said Lefebure in a press release.
Rural Cowichan Lake residents have to pay $12 to use the facilities at the aquatic centre, compared to Town of Lake Cowichan residents who will now pay $6.