The City of Prince Albert has committed to a plan that will keep the Marion Aquatics Pool open for another three years.
On Monday, city council voted by a 6-2 margin to spend $143,000 per year through 2020 as part of an agreement with potential pool operators Rivier Manor Ltd.
Pool supporters, who filled half the gallery for Monday’s meeting, heartily cheered the decision to provide city funding.
“Keeping it open was a really positive move for Prince Albert,” said Cynthia Stahl, one of the supporters in attendance. “I think we really need it.”
Stahl and her compatriots weren’t the only ones who left Monday’s meeting pleased. Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, who has long advocated for building another indoor pool in Prince Albert, called the decision “a bargain deal” for the city. Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody also expressed his satisfaction with the move, calling it a “ good deal for the public.”
Mayor Greg Dionne the city already has a shortage of indoor aquatic facilities, so refusing to fund one of them didn’t make much sense.
“Our community master plan says we need a new aquatic centre and we’re going to start planning for that, but (while) going through that process we still need another pool,” Dionne explained. “We can’t operate with one pool, so that’s why we only made the deal for three years, because we hope to be in the ground in three years with a new aquatic centre. We’re going to work hard on that.”
However, Monday’s vote wasn’t a cut-and-dry affair. The proposal received plenty of pushback from several city councillors, who were concerned about the financial impact.
The three-year agreement will be funded out of a positive variance, but when asked by Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller where that positive variance would come from, city administrators replied that they were unsure. Miller ultimately voted against the proposal.
Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp also voted against the motion. While expressing some support for the proposal in theory, she worried there was no way to ensure the operators would consider offering public programing.
With Rivier Manor Ltd. in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the building that houses Marion Aquatics, Lennox-Zepp and Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski also expressed a desire to tie funding to the building’s final purchase.
An initial motion to do just that was defeated at Monday’s meeting, but a second that called for the agreement to be based on terms and conditions of the sale and then brought back to city council for approval passed shortly afterwards.
SUBHEADLINE: Paying their share
Rural usage was one of the biggest concerns the kept councillors debating the Marion Aquatics motion on Monday.
Several councillors expressed concern that Prince Albert residents would be paying for a service used largely by residents in the surrounding rural municipalities. Mayor Greg Dionne said the R.M.’s were unlikely to provide the city with funds voluntarily, and added that there are currently no ways to force them to do so. However, that could change in the future. Dionne said the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) is currently lobbying the provincial government to throw their influence into the ring. Dionne said they want the province to create laws that would help cities share the infrastructure burden.
“The cities are frustrated because our bill gets bigger and bigger and we’re not getting anymore funding from the province as they continue to cut,” he explained. “We have to find new ways to operate.”
Dionne said he prefers a user-pay model in the future that would charge rural residents more than municipal residents.
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