During the last election, if you followed the Abbotsford FIRST campaign, you will have heard from us an endless stream of facts and figures about how our City spends the money it collects from you. In 2013, the latest available data during the election campaign, the City of Abbotsford collected $120 million in Property Taxes. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture (PRC) spent $40 million. These numbers appeared in the City’s Financial Statements for 2013 and are available for download from the City web site.
This is significant because I view Property Taxes as the money the City uses for “discretionary” spending. To explain that further, when the city collects Development Cost Charges, that money should be spent on infrastructure. When it collects money through police enforcement, it should be spent on policing, when the Airport collects a fee, it should be spent on the Airport…and so on.
The $120 million is unallocated monies. Yes, the City must spend on things like City Hall and staff…but the size of those things are discretionary. Back to the point, the City decides to spend fully one third of its discretionary budget on PRC activities.
This column is not about how much we spend on recreation. I’m not going to moan about how much money we could save if we cut the budget. In fact, this column is simply taking the opportunity to fully explain a statement I made during the campaign.
I was asked if I would increase the budget for Parks and Rec. I said no…at 33% of the all Property Taxes collected, it receives more than enough funding, but that funding is badly spent and service to the community could…and should…be great improved.
With that statement out of the way, let’s talk about some further assumptions.
- PRC delivers community recreation that should be targeted at serving the largest number of citizens possible.
- Doing so will likely result in an operating deficit for the department.
- PRC has competition. This comes in the form of private facilities and neighboring facilities.
This is some pretty basic stuff but it is necessary to state these facts because they are not always considered by PRC when delivering services to the community.
Let’s now zero in on a specific aspect of PRC facilities and services.
In order to serve the largest cross section of the community, PRC facilities should cater to “the family”. PRC markets to families and promises services and programs suited to their needs.
On the surface, this is true. All the elements are there.
But what about access. If you want a family to come and use services you need to give them a path to those programs. Let’s break that down further and choose something very simple …. child minding.
In all of Abbotsford, the grand total of available child minding through an average week is approximately 18 hours.
These hours occur from 9am to 11:30am Monday to Friday, and 4:45am-6:45pm only on Monday and Wednesday (plus 2.5 hours Saturday mornings).
So, let me start by saying that any family with two working parents instantly makes this schedule useless. The morning session is not possible and anyone working until 5pm can’t get to the gym quickly enough to make child minding worthwhile. But wait…its worse than that.
Child minding is only offered at Abbotsford Recreation Centre (ARC) and from Monday to Thursday there is only 3 hours a child can go in the pool. From the time school is out until closing, children just simply are not welcome unless they are taking a lesson. So, what motivation has any family for using the facilities “as a family”. The only way they can use the facilities is one at a time. (Please note that in the summer schedule more hours are available to kids…but not much more… and they are not synchronized with the end of child minding…so again, useless)
I mentioned competition. This is important because our public facilities need revenue. So they must compete, not just spend tax dollars when others come to compete with them.
A great example of this scenario came close to reality in 2013 when we nearly gave the YMCA $35 million in order to do just that….compete with our public facilities. And they would have done that very well.
In Surrey, the YMCA facility… run by an organization that is committed to families, not just paying that concept lip service, offers 55 hours of child minding per week. This alone dwarfs what PRC thinks will work for our local families, but there’s even more. The YMCA offers 30+ hours of Active Play a program for kids that is completely free with Membership.
85 hours targeted at one single goal. To give families a reason to come to the gym. And it works.
Go to the YMCA right now…in the middle of the summer. It is busy. Families, kids…the place is full. This commitment to families pays off. Their summer camps are sold out.
Compare that to Abbotsford. Go to ARC now…in the middle of the summer and you can count the people there on your fingers and toes. I would also put it to you that this is the reason PRC summer camps have many vacancies. I put it to you further that the people using PRC facilities are not families.
One day the YMCA is going to come again. This time they will come without the need for your tax dollars as a gift. In the meanwhile, other private operators like Steve Nash, Valley Racquet Centre, Apollo, Great West Fitness, Good Life, etc will continue to whittle away at the market share PRC currently attracts. The result is more and more of your tax dollars will be spent to subsidize their operations.
Langley recently announced the construction of a community recreation centre in Aldergove. That facility will take attract our citizens away from our aging Matsqui Recreation (MRC) Facility in West Abbotsford.
MRC offers no child minding whatsoever by the way. None. So much for our commitment to families.
As a community, we are so far behind our neighbors in terms of the number and diversity of facilities PRC has to offer the people of Abbotsford. We need soccer fields, pools and more. We don’t have the money to build more so we must…and I repeat we must make the most of out what we have. PRC has a simple thing like child minding wrong and it is costing us countless dollars in revenue.
Instead, they do the same old thing. Infamously, they have held contests based on “Liking” PRC on Facebook that are advertised in the newspaper for thousands of dollars when the same funds could support many extra hours of child minding each and every week.
People have asked me for years, both on the campaign trail and otherwise “How are you going to lower taxes?” The big answers aren’t simple, but the small ones are.
Child minding at your recreation facilities in a community that revolves around family living will generate revenue. Provide the service. Advertise it. It is world changing to a family where both parents work. They will bring their children and they will use the facilities and we’ll all benefit. Oh! And did I mention this introduces kids to the very facility we want them going to?
Is it a big thing? To families it is. And the best part? It’s simple.