RM of Buckland reeve Don Fyrk wasn’t surprised by Prince Albert city council’s decision to start charging non-residents to use indoor and outdoor City-owned facilities, but he was disappointed.
Fyrk said the City has been “hinting at this for years” before council voted in favour of it at budget meetings on Thursday. However, he said that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
“I don’t know why they think the RM should be responsible for their debts,” Fyrk said. “I really don’t. There’s extra monies they want to tack on for people who are outside this city, like a user fee, but the sad thing about the whole thing this is a lot of people who live in the RMs have properties in the city, (and) they have businesses in the City.”
The motion approved at Thursday’s meeting will see non-residents pay a $150 fee for indoor facilities, and a $75 fee for outdoor facilities. The motions are subject to review by administration. The City intends to implement the fees in 2024.
In a press release on Thursday, Mayor Greg Dionne said Prince Albert operates first class facilities and programs, but they come at a cost, and the RMs need to help.
“We have attempted to work with the RMs in the past to discuss funding support for recreation facilities that their residents benefit from,” Dionne said. “Unfortunately, we did not receive a commitment so we are pursuing other options to protect the interests of our taxpayers who fund these facilities. We remain open to discussions from the RMs if they are interested.”
Fyrk said RM residents make up a small minority of facility users, while contributing in other areas like support for local businesses. He said they’re being blamed for a problem them didn’t create.
“I think we’re being scapegoated,” he said. “This isn’t going to hurt the RMs one little bit. All it’s going to do is hurt the kids, because a lot of families, they budget very close, especially in inflation times right now.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he added.
Fyrk also said the RM of Buckland has no intention of reciprocating and charging Prince Albert residents a special fee to use their facilities. However, he would like to see more cooperation going forward.
If the City wants the RMs to contribute, he said, they should discuss funding before a new facility is built.
“If they want partners in a project, why weren’t we included right from the ground level,” he said. “You don’t start building something and then come in yelling and screaming and telling (RMs) you want user fee money from everybody. That’s not right.
“We’ve got hockey teams coming out here from the City to play in our rink. Do we start billing them too? I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “A lot of people come out of the City to use our facilities our here in the bush—do a little bit of quading and motorbiking and all that. Do we track them down and give them tickets…? I don’t think so.”
City council passed a 2024 budget with $2.55 million in spending that will require a property tax increase to cover. Dionne said the City faces crisis in homelessness, policing, and social issues, and it costs a lot of money to address those challenges.
“We are simply not supported enough and particularly in Prince Albert where we face unique circumstances,” Dionne said. “We continue to work with the provincial government to discuss what options are available to increase support.”
In 2024, the City of Prince Albert will pay $6.58 million to operate recreation facilities and programs.