A player with the Parksville Panters jumps the boards during a game at Pearkes recreation centre. These players

Free access to rec centres, paid for by taxes, among options for Saanichites

In exchange for higher taxes, Saanichites could get free access to municipally owned recreation centres. The idea of ditching user fees and dipping into general revenue is just one idea being floated around as Saanich undertakes a comprehensive review of its parks and rec master plan.

If supported, free admission at facilities such as Pearkes and Commonwealth Place would be offset by having taxpayers fund the service, as they currently do for such things as policing and public works.

“Right now we’re just trying to gauge whether there is an interest (in having) … a base level of recreation services supported by the general tax base,” said Doug Henderson, director of parks and rec.

This week, four open houses were held to provide Saanich residents with an idea of what sorts of issues staff will explore.

There are three objectives to updating the master plan: find out what’s working, what isn’t working, and how to best support growth – financially – as improvements are made.

“We want to try and find out from the residents if there are gaps. Are we doing things they don’t need us to do anymore? Are we not doing thing they’d like us to do?” Henderson said.

A survey, conducted in January and February, found Saanich residents are generally quite happy with the current activities and services.

But respondents say they’d like to see more opportunities for children and youth, as well as programs to address childhood obesity and assistance for low-income families.

As for outdoor activities, trails are the most frequently used option, and residents indicate their maintenance and expansion should continue as a high priority. So should the development of more facilities, including a new arena, as well as more washrooms for people who use parks and trails.

Of the 1,568 surveys received, 40 per cent (625 respondents) said they would be willing to pay up to $13 more per year in taxes to finance improved parks and rec options.

An additional 25 per cent (403 respondents) supported paying at least $26 more per year for improvements.

As for alternate forms of funding, there is strong opposition to increasing admission and rental fees, instituting pay parking at parks or rec centres or reducing hours of operation.

Additionally, 43 per cent of respondents support the idea of free drop-in swimming and skating in exchange for higher taxes. This compares to 38 per cent who opposed the idea. Nineteen per cent had no opinion.

“We’re looking at a number of different things that have been identified as big-issue items,” Henderson said. “This information is valuable in trying to decide which direction we’re going to go over the next five to seven years.”

For more information on the parks and rec master plan, visit www.saanich.ca/parkrec/masterplan.html.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Top priorities

• The following are the highest priorities for Saanich parks and rec, according to 1,568 Saanich residents who completed the survey.

• Recreation options for

low-income families

(57.7 per cent).

• Improving and enhancing trails (57.4 per cent).

• Better options for children and youth (54.1 per cent).

• Programs to address childhood obesity (50.9 per cent).

• Park refuse disposal (45.6 per cent).

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