Regional mayors respond to suggestion municipalities help cover Edmonton recreational facility costs

Click to play video 'Mayors of municipalities near Edmonton weigh in on who should pay for Edmonton amenities' Mayors of municipalities near Edmonton weigh in on who should pay for Edmonton amenities
WATCH ABOVE: Some mayors of municipalities near Edmonton are raising their voices following comments by Edmonton's mayor about who should possibly be chipping in for that city's amenities. Vinesh Pratap reports – Dec 10, 2018

A pair of mayors have responded to Mayor Don Iveson’s suggestion that regional municipalities should chip in to support Edmonton’s recreational facilities.

Last Thursday, city council postponed formalizing the construction of the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre for one year, because in part, it wants to look into getting financial help from neighboring municipalities to help with the $292 million price tag. On Friday morning, the same thing happened with a $39 million upgrade to the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

READ MORE: Edmonton looking to neighbours to help pay for attractions

“The taxes should be higher in St. Albert, Strathcona County, Leduc and Beaumont because the free ride is over,” Iveson said on Friday. “If it’s just on the zoo… but ultimately it’s on transit and ultimately it’s on police, and ultimately it’s on roadways, then we’re getting somewhere about the inequity which has driven the discrepancy in taxation in this region.”

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Iveson said data can be collected, through attendance at city attractions. Even licence plate surveys in area parking lots. Estimates range from 30 per cent out of town visitors for Telus World of Science, to 10 per cent at the zoo.

“I want to put every single thing that we have that is of benefit beyond the borders of the city of Edmonton with respect to recreation and tourism and the economic benefits that come with them and the social and public health benefits that come with them, I want to put every last piece of that on the table in that conversation over the next year,” he said.

READ MORE: Edmonton City Council puts Lewis Farms rec centre in funding queue but won’t confirm until next fall

The Edmonton mayor’s comments have caused regional mayors to jump to the defense of their municipalities.

In a Facebook post, St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said “under no circumstances” would she support the idea.

“What wasn’t clear on the news is that the province is forcing our region to sign agreements by 2020 to address the cost sharing of recreational facilities like the zoo, Telus World of Science, pools, ice and Fort Edmonton Park,” Heron said.

“We have no choice but to enter into this discussion with Edmonton and other municipalities. It’s mandatory.

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“Keep in mind that while we have to discuss it and enter an agreement, that agreement doesn’t have to include tax dollars or even cost sharing. Edmonton and St. Albert could implement non-resident fees if we so choose. But we are a long way away from those conclusions. Please remember that non-residential fees go both ways.”

Heron added about 30 per cent of memberships at St. Albert’s Servus Credit Union Place are from Edmonton residents.

READ MORE: Edmonton City Council building consensus on ways to hold down tax increase

Leduc Mayor Bob Young said surrounding municipalities were not responsible for covering the cost of Edmonton’s tourism and recreational facilities.

“Leduc, like most every other municipality in the Edmonton region, builds culture and recreation facilities with tax dollars from our residents,” Young said. “We know residents from outside our region will use our facilities and their user fees will go towards our operating costs.”

On Monday, Iveson acknowledged that he “got very passionate” about the issue of who pays for amenities on Friday.

“What we have right now is a series of strong opinions,” he said. “I’ve got strong opinions, I know the other mayors have strong opinions.

“What we need to do is get some data on the table and show how are people who live across borders in this region using complex services from recreation, to transit, to the roads,” Iveson continued. “That’s some of what we’re trying to do at the regional board and obviously I got pretty passionate about it on Friday.”

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Further explaining his “passionate” response, Iveson said, “It really became clear to me that there are a number of these things that my instinct says we need to have conversations with our neighbours about equity. But I’m more than willing to sit down and look at the data and frankly look at their requests.”

The issue is expected to be discussed during Thursday’s Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board meeting.