Rocky relationship for two cities

Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows at odds over airport, recreation

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker believes the city needs to spend its money for arts within its borders and that it can now better manage the airport on its own.

While Maple Ridge reviews its recreation partnership with Pitt Meadows, the mayor of the latter is wondering if his taxpayers want to pay for swimming pools and community centres in the farther reaches of Maple Ridge.

The bigger city is growing and expanding, says John Becker.

“From the parochial perspective, are we particularly interested, even if it’s 20-cent dollars, in a new community centre in south Whonnock?”

Or a swimming pool?

“Pick your project. Does this still suit everybody?”

While each city pays all of the construction costs for any new pool or park or community centre within its borders, the two cities share the operating costs, using an 80/20 split, based on the relative populations.

It’s a conversation that needs to happen, Becker said, adding that growth projections didn’t factor in the effects of geography.

And does Maple Ridge still want a deal in which it’s outvoted on the recreation commission?

“We’ll figure it out together, as we have for decades.”

The deal to share operating costs is part of the joint parks and leisure services agreement now being reviewed by Maple Ridge.

Becker added that he doesn’t want to scrap the agreement, but says Pitt Meadows may now have questions of its own.

“Our council needs to react to the desires of our partner to take a deeper look in how it’s working.”

Maple Ridge is reviewing the partnership after a 2014 study found that Pitt Meadows is saving $800,000 yearly thanks to the agreement with Maple Ridge, while the latter is actually paying $200,000 more than it would if there was no joint-leisure services agreement.

Becker says it’s natural for newly elected councillors in both cities to question relationships between the two.

It’s a difference of opinion.

“I don’t like to characterize it as a controversy,” Becker said.

“We are each other’s biggest supporters. The two communities are geographically … joined at the hip, as far as I can see.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read notes that the only reason her city is discussing a new pool is because Pitt Meadows abandoned plans to build its own.

“The reason we started talking about a location for another aquatic centre is because Pitt Meadows, our partner, said they would not be investing the capital to build one in Pitt Meadows.”

The Maple Ridge Leisure Centre pool is already at capacity, she noted.

“We need to be able to service all of Maple Ridge and Maple Ridge is growing.”

Read said it is possible, the joint parks and leisure services agreement could end.

While Becker still backs a partnership, he opposes his council’s recent decision to pay $5,000 yearly towards operating costs for the ACT Art Gallery.

That’s a new name that reflects Pitt Meadows now sharing in funding the facility, which operates at the ACT.

For Becker, the money would be better spent in his city.

Pitt Meadows needs to “resource our own community … There’s a real dearth of visual and performing arts in Pitt Meadows. We should be looking at what we’re doing here.”

Strains in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows partnerships reached a peak recently when Pitt Meadows asked Maple Ridge to give up its 50-per-cent share in the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.

Becker says his city could grow the airport more efficiently without having to get Maple Ridge’s consent for everything.

When the society originally was formed, it was thought both cities were needed to contribute financially to the airport growth.

But sales of airport lands have produced revenue that can finance future growth.

The City of Pitt Meadows now has the financial and intellectual capacity to govern the airport, says Becker, “as our asset, being wholly within the confines of Pitt Meadows.”

With sole ownership, or as sole member of the society that owns the airport, the City of Pitt Meadows could make investments more readily, knowing it would reap those benefits on its future tax roles, he added.

“Historically, there does not seem to be the same level of engagement,” from Maple Ridge in the airport’s future.

“Maple Ridge doesn’t have the same drivers.

“For us to be as nimble as we’d like to be … it’s about having another member from whom we have to have consent for things.”

Recently, the two cities couldn’t agree on appointments to the volunteer board of directors for the airport. Maple Ridge also wanted that board involved in future planning of the airport.

Read called the July letter from Pitt Meadows, given just before the annual meeting of the airport society, “disheartening.”

“We were very clear, we had no interest in relinquishing our interest in the airport.”

She said council was set to discuss the issue at its planning session when it received the letter.

A Maple Ridge staff report on the recreation partnership with Pitt Meadows is due at the Aug. 31 Maple Ridge council meeting.

 

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