Maple Ridge is bailing on Pitt Meadows and going its own way, adopting a “Maple Ridge First” approach to running its parks, swimming pools and ice rinks.
Maple Ridge decided Monday to end the joint leisure services deal it has with Pitt Meadows next year.
“I think it’s time,” Mayor Nicole Read said Tuesday.
“It’s something that’s been reviewed and considered over a number of years. Maple Ridge is growing quickly. We have a different need in this community.”
A study last year of the partnership, called the joint parks and leisure services agreement, found that Pitt Meadows was saving about a million dollars a year because of the partnership, while it was costing Maple Ridge $200,000 more per year than if it was operating on its own.
Both cities were trying to work out a deal to even up the costs.
But Maple Ridge council decided Monday to exit the agreement.
“Right now, for us, we made the decision. There obviously have been some questions raised by Pitt Meadows in terms of things. It seemed the right time for us,” Read said.
The city’s news release mentioned the financial inequity and “given this reality,” Maple Ridge decided to go on its own.
Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge signed the deal in 1994 to share leisure services as a means of saving money. The school district was also included.
“For us, the most important thing is for our staff and council to be able to focus wholeheartedly on building a really amazing sports community in Maple Ridge,” Read said.
She said as Maple Ridge grows and builds facilities farther from Pitt Meadows, the agreement will make less and less sense.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker had questioned earlier this year if Pitt Meadows, under the former agreement, still wanted to pay 20 per cent of the costs for a new rink or pool in eastern Maple Ridge.
Under the existing agreement, each city paid its own capital costs for building its own ice rinks or sports fields. But costs to operate those facilities were split 80/20 based on relative population.
A staff report in August said Maple Ridge should do a detailed study on the costs of exiting the agreement.
But council didn’t wait for that.
“We have projections for costs of exiting that were provided for council to consider,” Read said.
“The costs are fairly reasonable. We just honestly want to focus on Maple Ridge.”
Read said the costs for user groups will be determined over the following year’s transition period. The goal is to minimize any impact on sports or cultural groups when the agreement ends.
Coun. Craig Speirs said there have been many issues concerning recreation between the cities, specific to the joint-use agreement.
One of those came up in July, when Pitt Meadows Coun. Janice Elkerton asked for a report on Maple Ridge parks and leisure services senior staff salaries. That report was provided to Pitt Meadows council this month.
But that was just one issue, Speirs said.
“That really had not much to do with it. There was a lot more to it than that,” he added.
“At some point, you have to try to move on.”
His main concern is that service delivery for both cities is maintained and the transition is seamless.
“There’s a lot of shared social equity, so we have to make sure that’s taken care of.”
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw didn’t like the open discussion about individual staff salaries.
“For me, personally, there were starting to be some concerns about the way in which some of those concerns played out in the media. For me, the kind of culture we’re trying to build in our city hall, the way it was handled was not something I was super pleased with.”
He has no problem with discussing the topic generally.
But discussing individual salaries should be done in private.
“We weren’t having talks between the two parties. We were reading about concerns about people who are our senior staff, in the newspaper.
Shymkiw says he’d like to see more sports facilities in Maple Ridge and said user fees won’t rise when the agreement ends.
“It’s not about getting away from cooperation,” with Pitt Meadows.
Ending the agreement could produce a savings for Maple Ridge, he added.
“Every city has financial pressures and we need to get the best value for our taxpayers.”
Maple Ridge’s decision prompted a strong reaction from former Pitt Meadows mayor Deb Walters on Facebook.
She said Maple Ridge’s move was a “bold, forward-thinking move,” but “a loss to Pitt Meadows residents, to be sure.”
She added the present council failed its residents, recognizing the financial benefits of the agreement.
“Try obtaining a zero per cent tax increase now,” Walters said.
`Cities’ relationship was souring’
By Neil Corbett
Pitt Meadows Coun. Bill Dingwall said the loss of Maple Ridge as a partner in parks and recreation is no surprise to him, given what he calls a deteriorating relationship between the two cities.
Dingwall said Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge are partnered in many areas, including tourism, airport operation, policing, the arts council, dikes and more, and he would like to see that continue.
“There’s considerable value and economy working with others, especially given the size of Pitt Meadows,” he said. “This is about more than economics, it’s about a relationship.
“ Relationships are about being professional, mutual respect, and effort on the part of both parties,” said Dingwall. “It isn’t about getting the best deal on every aspect, rather there needs to be give and take for the greater good.”
He said a symptom of the souring relationship was seen when Pitt Meadows council criticized raises given the parks and recreation managers by Maple Ridge city hall.
In 1984, when Dingwall’s family moved to Pitt Meadows, his children had to wait to register for pool programs, until all the Maple Ridge children who wanted in registered first.
“I’m really concerned about what this mean for our citizens,” he said, and expressed hope the agreement can still be salvaged before the October 2016 deadline.
“It’s not surprising given the deterioration of the relationship,” he added.
The two cities have been at odds over the Pitt Meadows airport, with Pitt Meadows asking Maple Ridge to withdraw and leave the facility in the control of its namesake city.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read refused, and the two sides are scheduled to resume discussions at an Oct. 29 meeting.
Coun. Janis Elkerton first raised the issue of rising salaries among the recreation management. She is unapologetic, and said the public expects politicians to ask tough questions.
“I asked because I heard complaints from Pitt Meadows residents,” she said. “Our residents have adjusted their household incomes, and they expect us to do the same.”
She said the agreement gave Pitt Meadows limited input into what services would be offered, and at what level.
Elkerton said Pitt Meadows has excellent sports fields, an up-to-date arena and recreation facilities. All that’s missing is a pool, and she said residents may be drawn to a new $60 million facility being built in Port Coquitlam.
“We have extremely good facilities,” said Elkerton. She said that with $2.3 million Pitt Meadows has been paying for the joint agreement, plus the $160,000 budgeted for local programs, it should be able to provide good recreation programs.
“This is the beginning of the future for Pitt Meadows parks and rec,” said Elkerton.
Coun. Tracy Miyashita agreed. She was surprised by the “divorce papers” from Maple Ridge, and said the most recent review showed there are a lot of advantages to having a joint agreement.
“It’s sad, in some ways, but it’s also an opportunity,” said Miyashita, who was once a parks and recreation coordinator based in Pitt Meadows.
“I’m not worried. I think there are ways we can offer some great services for the citizens of Pitt Meadows. As the two municipalities have grown so much, you can do your own recreation department.”
Mayor John Becker was surprised by the announcement.
“We were in a bit of a joint process of analysis,” in which both city’s finance departments were going to try to find ways of equalizing the joint agreement.
He said the separation allows Pitt Meadows to become masters of their own house.
“We can set our own service levels. We can also look at some internal efficiencies. So I would by no means concede that it would cost us more money to deliver an appropriate level of parks and recreation to our residents.”
Pitt Meadows just has to decide what services it wants to offer. It could even partner with Port Coquitlam in some kind of partnership.
“What we need to do is to set the kinds of services we want to have. At the end of the day, there may be a higher level of service, a greater level of local control and at a lower overall cost,” said Becker.
“That would be the perfect world. We’ll see.”
He didn’t see it as resulting from the dispute both cities have over the airport.