Langford is mulling its place within West Shore Parks and Recreation as frustrations mount from political infighting and conflicting priorities at the Colwood-based complex.
“It’s been the elephant in the room for a while now,” announced Metchosin Mayor John Ranns at the West Shore parks and rec annual general meeting on June 23. “Is Langford in or out?”
Langford’s possible exit from the West Shore’s largest recreation complex has circulated through the municipal rumour mill for months and years, charged by conflict at the board table and underscored by Langford’s drive to build City Centre Park.
Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton confirmed Langford has held informal talks about pulling out from the owner group.
“We’ve talked about the possibly of walking away from Juan de Fuca because we’ve done our own recreation on such a dramatic scale,” Seaton said.
“It’s definitely not something we’ve made a decision on. It’s something we’ve talked about because over the last few years, working here has not been fun.”
The 110-acre recreation facility is owned by Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, View Royal, Highlands and the Juan de Fuca electoral area, and all pay an annual requisition based on population. Of the $4.45 million gleaned from the owners in 2011, Langford paid about half, or $2.2 million.
But friction arises through the owners having an equal vote on capital spending despite having vastly different population sizes.
Ranns pointed out Langford is in “the position of paying twice” — at West Shore parks and rec, and then for its own stadium, turf fields and a ice rink and bowling complex, funded through loans and government grants.
“Langford supports a very large variety of recreational opportunities and pays the lion’s share here,” Ranns said. “It continues to underscore the inequity … there is a fundamental unfairness.”
Langford Mayor Stew Young said he doubts the City would abandon WSPR, but said the politics behind building and upgrading facilities is frustrating and onerous.
“The governance at Juan de Fuca is too convoluted. There are roadblocks put up by other municipalities,” he said. “Langford wants to build recreation facilities for families and that’s not happening fast enough at JDF.”
A proposal some years ago to build an indoor velodrome and fieldhouse, and then a proposal to build a stadium and turf field on the velodrome site prompted angry clashes at the board table and owner’s meetings, usually with Langford and Colwood facing off against Metchosin.
Heated conflict also arose during construction of Bear Mountain arena almost a decade ago and the weight room expansion last year.
Young contends, as does the recent capital planning consultant report, that the velodrome site takes up too much space for too few users — the land would be better used as sports fields.
Metchosin, among others, argues the velodrome helps provide a broad spectrum of recreation. Metchosin councillors were key players in getting it reopened this summer after being fenced off for almost three years.
Young said if WSPR become intolerably bogged down in politics, Langford taxpayers may demand the City pull out.
“Down the road it might be residents saying ‘why are you spending $2.2 million per year down there?’” he said. “In the end it won’t be politicians deciding, it will be the people telling us what to do.”
WSPR owners have long recognized its governance structure can be dysfunctional and can’t reconcile philosophical and personal differences between different municipal leaders.
The group agreed to hire a consultant to review the co-owner’s agreement, which is up for renewal at the end of 2011.
“There has been conflict and hard feelings, but I think there is an opportunity here to build a different model,” Ranns told the owner’s group. “The window is now to get together to look at a positive resolution.”
Ranns suggested a model where Langford doesn’t give up ownership rights, but walks away from participating in overseeing operations.
He said Langford could pay 50 per cent of its requisition, recognizing its citizens will still use the West Shore facilities — of the 7,700 pass holders, 40 per cent live in Langford.
Under that plan, WSPR would lose about $1 million per year.
“That would step us back two years in the budget, but I think we could survive that, ” Ranns said.