With Edmonton city council trying to find a way to freeze property taxes in its next budget, a number of public swimming pools in the city could be on the chopping block as councillors look to find savings where they can.
Council is eyeing the possible closure of Oliver, Scona and Eastglen pools, and the community leagues whose members use those facilities are now working together to try and put off such a decision.
“After all our communities have battled the potential closure of our pools — and now arenas — over the years… there’s a lot of common ground and a lot of common battles that we’re fighting,” Julie Kusiek, president of the Queen Alexandra Community League, told Global News on Monday. “While we have a difficult budget ahead of us, it’s also important not to lose sight of the city’s bigger vision and the way that we want people to move and live in the city of Edmonton.
“Council is encouraging people to move into central core neighbourhoods…to go ahead and take away the amenities that are currently there… doesn’t really make sense.”
Kusiek said she understands that in the case of Scona pool, for instance, the facility is not a suitable candidate for long-term rehabilitation. But she noted that she and the presidents of the Bellevue Community League and Oliver Community League want a stay on the pools’ closure until a new plan for recreational amenities can be worked out.
“We know these facilities as they currently sit are not fancy, but they are fufilling a unique need,” she said. “Let’s keep them open now. And in the meantime, let’s start work towards that new model of recreation that we will need.”
Kusiek said community members tell her and her counterparts that the pools are valued because they are affordable, the modest size and nature of the amenities is welcoming and having a neighbourhood pool is a major benefit for people who do not have a car.
In a news release, Oliver Community League president Robyn Paches noted that “Oliver is Edmonton’s most densely populated neighbourhood.”
“Taxes collected from our residents supplement necessary things across the entire city,” Paches said. “However, as the city continues to invest heavily in other communities, but Oliver repeatedly sees our amenities ignored or taken away, resentment builds.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Bellevue Community League president Rick McAdie said the facilities are important.
“I’ve seen these pools change lives,” he said in a news release.
Kusiek said the city needs a plan for when community recreational facilities reach the end of their usability and that she believes the city could potentially find savings in the future by investing in more modest facilities.
The City of Edmonton has been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it also wants to ease the tax burden on citizens whose personal financial situations have also been poorly affected by the health crisis.
In order to hold the budget at current levels, $64 million in savings will need to be found. City administration has proposed $56.5 million in program changes, efficiencies, facility closures and other reductions and $7.5 million in other financial strategies.
In addition to the swimming pools, Oliver and Tipton arenas could also be on the chopping block.
Kusiek said the community leagues that are trying to save their recreational facilities will make their pitch to city council on Thursday.
–With a files from Global News’ Emily Mertz