Work is underway on two new all-weather fields at Thomas Haney secondary. (THE NEWS/files)

#MRvotes2018: Candidates agree, Maple Ridge needs more places to play

Plan providing new sports fields, renovated Leisure Centre

One of the candidates for mayor is raising the issue of recreation and how Maple Ridge pays for its parks, swimming pools and sports fields.

Mike Morden, in a campaign video, said that he wants to review the $49.5-million recreation borrowing plan approved this year by the current council, following public approval.

That plan calls for borrowing up to $49.5 to complete improvements to: the swimming pools at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre; building two new all-weather sports fields at Thomas Haney secondary; the new Albion community centre; a new ice rink at Planet Ice; building two small parks in Silver Valley; improving the dock at Whonnock Lake; and renovating the Hammond Community Centre.

Morden, though, wants all of that reviewed.

“Current council has approved a $50-million recreation plan. Can we afford this?” he asks in his video, “Recreation We Can Afford.”

Morden said some say Maple Ridge recreation facilities are lagging behind those of other cities. He added that Maple Ridge needs to ensure it provides the best facilities it can afford.

People deserve good recreation because it builds complete communities, Morden said.

“On the other hand, $50 million is a lot of money and we need to be careful how we spend taxpayer’s money.”

Morden said later he doesn’t want to delay any of the projects, but to just take a second look to ensure “we have the right financial formula.

“It’s a review without putting the brakes on any of the projects. We need these things. We’re far behind.”

However, Coun. Craig Speirs, who’s also running for mayor, said the city may not have to borrow all of the $49.5 million approved in the plebiscite.

“We’ll do whatever we can to limit borrowing.”

Speirs said that the new community amenity contributions, paid by developers, and higher development cost charges, will help pay for recreation facilities.

“So now we have a fund to work from,” Speirs said.

“We’re behind because of council’s past inaction.”

Morden said that, in 2014, the previous council decided on spending $5.5 million to renovate the Leisure Centre pool, which is 37 years old. That amount was to replace leaking filtration and mechanical systems and two pools.

But that was delayed by the incoming council and, in 2017, the project was expanded to include renovating the lobby and change rooms, which added another $3.5 million. Council awarded the $9.6 million contract in February of this year.

In brief, the borrowing amounts for each recreation project are:

• ice sheet addition at Planet Ice, $23.5 million;

• Albion Community Centre, $8.5 million;

• two artificial sports fields at Thomas Haney secondary, $7 million;

• part of the costs of renovations to Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, $3.5 million;

• Hammond Community Centre renovation, $2.5 million;

• Whonnock Lake renovation, $1 million;

• Maple Ridge secondary track and field renovation, $2.5 million;

• Silver Valley neighbourhood gathering places, $1 million.

If all of that $49.5 million has to be borrowed to complete the projects, it would require a total tax of 0.35-per-cent each year, for the next seven years. After that period, people would be paying an average of an extra $60 a year on their property taxes.

Maple Ridge implemented the community amenity charges in 2017, after most Metro Vancouver cities already had them in place.

Speirs said that the higher housing costs resulting from such charges are dwarfed by the increase in overall housing prices.

“We’ll do whatever we can to avoid borrowing money for the taxpayer.”

Speirs added that the city also needs another leisure centre or aquatic centre, which is currently being studied by the city.

Doug Blamey, who’s also running for mayor, pointed out it’s too late to say no to the borrowing package. He said he had mixed feelings, but supports the plan because of the need to have recreation facilities. And he’s also proposing to borrow money only as it’s needed for each project.

“Anything for the kids to stay on the field, I’m totally for.”

Ernie Daykin noted that when he was mayor, council approved the renovation of the Leisure Centre pool 2014, which was delayed by the incoming council.

Mayor Nicole Read said she had wanted a new indoor pool built before shutting down the Leisure Centre for a year for the repairs.

Daykin, as a mayoral candidate again also supports the recreation facility plan now being followed, although he wants to review every project and what each facility’s operating and replacement costs are before they proceed. That’s the usual process, he added.

“I think we’ve heard loud and clear that we need more recreation facilities and we need them for all age groups,” Daykin said.

Daykin added that during the online consultation for the projects, he asked about the annual operating costs for each new recreation facility.

“The initial [capital] cost can actually be the cheap part,” he said.

“I have asked that question a couple of times and I don’t recall ever getting an answer.”

However, the operating costs of each facility are built into the funding model, said Trevor Thompson, Maple Ridge’s chief financial officer.

Thompson said the community amenity charges will raise about $2 million a year for the city depending on how much building happens every year.

Developers pay a flat fee of $5,100 for each single-family house, $4,100 for each townhouse and $3,100 for each condo built.

In property tax revenues, that’s equivalent to about a 2.5-per-cent property tax increase every year.

However, community amenity charges are paid only once, when construction starts on a project.

Thompson said, so far, the city has raised about $5.5 million since community amenity charges and the previously implemented density bonusing charge in north Albion for construction projects that went above the usual density for zoning in that area.

He said those charges will contribute about $9 million toward the recreation projects the city is now building. It’s possible the city may have to borrow some of the $49.5 million for recreation projects, but the exact number isn’t known.

Daykin noted that the Albion density bonusing charge was implemented when he was mayor in 2013 or 2014. And he cautioned that community amenity charges are only charged once, and revenues to the city can change each year. So that money only should be used for capital projects, he said.

“If people stop building houses, there’s going to be no more community amenity charges collected.”

The Albion Community Centre, costing about $10 million, is just about to start construction while construction of the Thomas Haney secondary all-weather fields is already underway.

He said that, when he was mayor, council passed the new recreation master plan in 2010, it did so without an implementation plan spelling out how any new facilities would be paid for.

But council did that in the wake of the 2008 market crash was being conservative, he said.

Mike Shields, the fifth mayoral candidate, was unavailable for comment.

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