The Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre will remain open in 2021 without service reductions, following pleas from the neighbourhood to keep the facility open.
During budget talks on Tuesday (Nov. 24), council rejected changes to the facility’s schedule to pinch pennies next year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in a good place right now,” Coun. Arjun Singh said, alluding to the provisional property tax increase. “We don’t necessarily need to reduce hours.”
This past summer, city staff suggested the cost-cutting measure of closing the pool and fitness centre in 2021(once the Canada Games Aquatic Centre reopens after work there is completed) after council asked that next year’s tax increase be kept as close to zero per cent as possible.
Sitting at a provisional tax rate increase of about a half per cent on Tuesday, council was provided with a list of potential cuts, including reducing hours at the pool and gym in Westsyde, closing it for part of the year or closing it entirely in 2021.
The cuts would have amounted to between $200,000 and $640,000 in savings, depending on the option, which in and of itself could have depleted the proposed tax increase altogether.
Council heard the facility is heavily subsidized, compared to the Canada Games Aquatic Centre. Council also heard most of the money the city spends via its budget is on services such as policing and water, so it is difficult to find significant cost savings elsewhere.
“It [Westsyde Pool reductions] is a large amount that could offset taxes if council wanted to offset taxes,” the city’s corporate services director, Kathy Humphrey, told council.
Residents, meanwhile, opposed the idea, as previously reported by KTW.
Coun. Dale Bass said she has been deluged with people who want the facility to remain open in 2021 and noted residents are “tired” of having to fight for their pool.
Coun. Singh said usage has increased since the city proposed to shutter the pool in recent years, suggesting residents rose to the challenge previously made by the city.
Coun. Sadie Hunter added it is difficult to increase patron numbers when the facility is constantly closing and that it would benefit from consistency.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly and Coun. Denis Walsh, meanwhile, showed interest in reducing services to varying degrees. Walsh suggested closing the pool in summer months, when the Brock outdoor pool would be in operation, leaving the gym space status quo.
O’Reilly noted other facilities, such as arenas and community centres, have had hours cut back amid the pandemic. The pool conversation is only coming up now, he said, because the Canada Games Aquatic Centre is set to reopen in early January. He suggested reducing hours at Westsyde, which would provide cost savings of $200,000 for reduced labour costs.
Neither idea gained traction. O’Reilly’s motion failed in a vote of 8-1 and Singh then put forward a motion for the facility to essentially remain operating as is. The motion passed by a vote of 8-1, with O’Reilly opposed.
Memorial Arena will also remain open after council voted against a temporary closure from January to August to provide cost savings of $220,000. The facility is currently being utilized by BC Housing for emergency shelter space. However, that space is expected to move to the adjacent Kamloops Curling Centre on Dec. 1.
Beginning in 2022, residents will no longer receive a City of Kamloops calendar in the mail after council voted to produce the calendar in-house on a request-only basis at a cost savings of $25,000.
The calendar includes local photography, garbage days and other city-related information, including tax deadlines. The 2021 calendar will still arrive in the next week or so, as previously planned. Other cost-saving measures will include temperature changes in civic facilities and eliminating street light checks for an estimated 4,500 city street lights,
Overall savings approved on Tuesday bring the city’s provisional tax rate increase down to 0.28 per cent. However, that number could change because council also agreed to have staff bring forward supplemental budget requests in the new year, which include up to 0.3 per cent worth of tax hikes.