In early September, Mayor Iveson outlined his five-point plan for Budget 2018. The premise of his plan is something I can agree with in principle; we are heading into a very tight budget cycle, and we must focus our efforts on prioritizing fiscal restraint while continuing our work to upgrade our infrastructure city-wide. People are tired of seeing property tax increases that exceed the rate of inflation and growth, and we must balance this fatigue with the growth pressures that our city is facing. However, one element of the Mayor’s plan suggested imposing a levy on the Edmontonians that benefit most from new infrastructure, including the proposed Lewis Farms Recreation Centre. This is unacceptable to me. The Lewis Farms Recreation Centre is a project that I campaigned heavily on, and it is clear that it would fill a significant need for West End residents that has been met in other areas of Edmonton. We need this project built. Not only would it add much needed recreation capacity to West Edmonton, it would also add a library, a daycare, a high school and several other community-minded amenities that West Edmontonians need.
As many of us will remember, the City has opened three new recreation centres within the last decade. Terwillegar Recreation Centre opened in 2010, The Meadows opened in 2014, and the facility in Clareview opened in 2015. All three of these projects were paid for by the broader city tax base. There was no levy attached to residents in any of those areas, though these facilities filled a local gap in each of these corners of the city. Now that we are on the cusp of filling that same gap in West Edmonton, we are talking about burdening West End residents with a greater share of the cost of construction – the same residents that already paid their fair share on these other existing recreation centres. How is this fair? It’s not. Taxpayers in our core neighbourhoods may subsidize new projects that support our growth in newer communities, but they are also the beneficiaries of existing infrastructure and facilities. And who pays for the operational costs of these existing facilities? All of us.
To be a sustainable city we must focus on densification in existing communities, and developers should be incentivized to do so. However, many of the communities that will benefit the most from the proposed Lewis Farms Recreation Centre, though relatively new, are well-established. They are densely populated communities like Glastonbury and The Hamptons with many residents that have lived there for twenty years. They have stable community leagues, grocery stores and vibrant schools which are already facing capacity issues. In the near future, they will be serviced by an LRT line with a terminus point at Lewis Farms. These communities are firmly rooted, and they are facing significant infrastructure gaps. Meanwhile, residents in the more mature communities of Callingwood, Ormsby Place, Thorncliff and others in Ward 5 have relied on an excellent but jam-packed Jamie Platz YMCA facility for decades. We must ensure that kids growing up in West Edmonton today are able to go to daycare, learn to swim, play in a gymnasium and access a local library.
The Mayor argued in his blog, quite rightly, that “just because you don’t “use” something doesn’t mean you are not benefiting from it.” A suburban resident, for example, may not often use the transit that they pay for, but they do benefit from fewer cars on the road on their daily commute. The proposed Lewis Farms Recreation Centre should be treated the same. Adding a local option for West End residents will take capacity pressures off of other City recreation facilities. It will take West End drivers off the roads that would otherwise have to drive across Edmonton to use an existing facility. It will help us become a healthier city by offering overall health benefits. It will free up YMCA resources that are currently managing the crowded Jamie Platz facility. The benefits of a new recreation facility are obviously weighted towards those that will access it the most, but we cannot ignore the downstream effects. This project will be beneficial to all Edmontonians and it should be treated as such.
I’ve heard from too many West End parents that cannot get their kids into swimming lessons because there are not enough spots available. We must move forward with the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre using the same approach that we used with the Clareview, Terwillegar and The Meadows facilities. Join me at a community event led by Lewis Estates Community League on October 15th to discuss this. Good fiscal management should not come at a cost of the long-term health and prosperity of Edmontonians.