Sportsplex future rests on additional tax dollars

Cowichan schoolkids work out at the Cowichan Sportsplex during the valley’s bid to enter the Guinness World Record Book in April. They helped set a record for the world’s largest fitness circuit workout with a total of 2,780. - courtesy Cowichan Sportsplex
Cowichan schoolkids work out at the Cowichan Sportsplex during the valley’s bid to enter the Guinness World Record Book in April. They helped set a record for the world’s largest fitness circuit workout with a total of 2,780.
— image credit: courtesy Cowichan Sportsplex

The future of the Cowichan Sportsplex could be determined tonight.

Cowichan Valley Regional District directors are expected to debate what essentially amounts to an ultimatum from the group that runs the facility: buck up or we're out.

The Chesterfield Sports Society, the non-profit group that manages sportsplex operations, says that if local government does not increase funding before Dec. 31, the society will relinquish responsibility for the facility.

Last fall, society president Don McClintock met with officials from North Cowichan, the CVRD, School District 79 and the City of Duncan to ask for additional funding. All but School District 79 declined the request.

Today, the society is back, looking for a grant to cover a projected year-end deficit.

In addition to the $100,000 it gets from the CVRD, $5,000 from Duncan, and $31,000 from North Cowichan, the society wants a further $22,000, $5,000 and $15,000, respectively.

To make up this year's shortfall, the society has drawn from its capital reserve fund — money set aside to cover maintenance and upgrading costs for the track and turf fields. If it continues, the deficit will be $44,000 next year, and $90,000 the year after that.

"About two years ago, we had to spend $98,000 to resurface the track. Within about five years we will have to replace the artificial turf. The cost of doing that today is $550,000. We have been setting aside a significant amount of money to meet that cost coming down the road," McClintock said.

"The budgetary deficit is currently is $15,000 on a budget of over $350,000. It's not a major shortfall, it's just a shortfall that we cannot continue to bear.

"As we look down the road to a deficit of $90,000, it would be about 25% shortfall. It's way too much for us to be dipping into our capital reserves. As a nonprofit society we cannot continue to bear these deficits."

McClintock attributed the increased costs to predictable factors.

"We're faced with rising costs, just as anyone else, particularly fuel costs for maintenance of the facility. We've also done a study and found our staff salaries are significantly lower than those paid to staff in comparable facilities in the region."

As a result, the society increased staff hourly wages by $2, which brings them to about $2 less than comparable positions in the Cowichan Valley.

Other sources of income for the Society come from donations and sports clubs, who pay hourly user fees to use the facility, and corporate sponsors, who contribute between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. McClintock said they have looked other ways to increase revenues but nothing is sustainable.

"Our staff numbers are so skeleton we can't reduce staff. We can't, not that we would wish to, reduce the level of service to the community. Our rental rates are competitive, and to meet the shortfall we would have to raise the rates too far above what other facilities are charging."

If the society walks away, control reverts to North Cowichan which leases the site it to the society for $1 a year. McClintock said that is not the solution because municipal operation comes at a significantly higher cost.

"They would lose corporate sponsors, private donors and would have to hire staff at union rates rather than at non-union rates that we have at present time. Nobody is debating this point. Everyone at the Municipality of North Cowichan and CVRD recognizes that our operating costs are significantly below Kerry Park and other local facilities."

North Cowichan Councillor Al Siebring agrees McClintock has a good point.

"At the end of the day, the facility is in North Cowichan. We own the land, and if this isn't resolved in a way that establishes a long-term, sustainable funding model for the present operational structure, we could very well end up with a much more expensive operational problem on our hands down the line."

He said closure of the facility, most of which has been developed in the past decade, and has hosted the B.C. Seniors Games and North American Indigenous Games, is not an option.

"To those who would suggest just shutting the place down, that's neither politically plausible, nor would it be the responsible thing to do from a community health and recreation standpoint. Again, this facility has become such a integral part of recreation in our Valley that it would be unthinkable to close the doors."

A report is expected to be made to the Cowichan Valley Regional District tonight. Look back here for an update tomorrow.

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