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Calgary pool debate punted to future budget adjustments

Discussion about the fate of two inner-city Calgary pools turned into a debate Tuesday about who gets what in different city communities.

Councillors were set to hear City of Calgary administration recommend closure for the Inglewood and Beltline Aquatic facilities at the Priorities and Finance committee meeting.

Coun. Evan Woolley questioned recreation officials first on why the recommendation remained the same despite having gone back to examine alternatives to keep the pools open. He also asked why a long-term plan hadn’t been put in place prior to being faced with the Beltline pool closure, when they knew a decade ago it would have to be replaced.

RELATED: Beltline, Inglewood pools have options to remain open

“I do know that there’s been plenty of planning around the long-term needs,” said Heather Stewart, manager of strategic services with Calgary Recreation.

“And specifically for these two facilities, they’ve been identified for replacement, I believe, somewhere in the year 2039, plus or minus. But that would all be dependent on continued planning.”

Beltline services return for tax dollars

Woolley continued to ask about the work done to find alternatives to closure, but then turned his questions to the mayor and city admin.

He said in this most recent budget cycle they’ve closed a police station, they’re set to close two pools and they’ve removed the city’s waste and recycling centre. Woolley also said Green Line budget reductions could have the route bypassing the Beltline communities altogether.

“This is a neighborhood that sends at $7 million to City Hall every single year,” Woolley said.

“What does Beltline get for the amount of money that it sends to City Hall every year and how do we talk about the value of the property taxes collected in this neighborhood and what it gets in return.”

Woolley said that we’re funding infrastructure in areas where people aren’t living in exchange for tearing down facilities where people reside.

All Calgarians pay for infrastructure: ‘That’s how it works.’

Coun. Ward Sutherland took issue with the characterizing this debate as one around what one neighbourhood gets over another.

“What really concerns me is when we talk about any community, and we say, ‘well, this community generates this much dollars so it should get this,’” said Sutherland.

“I could simply say, ‘I live in Rocky Ridge, we pay taxes and we don’t drive our go all the way down to the public library. We want our money back.’”

He said all Calgarians pay for city infrastructure and services. “That’s how it works.”

Sutherland said for 20-plus years residents in the Tuscany and Royal Oak communities had to drive 15 to 20 minutes to go to recreation facilities.

“Economically, that’s what you have to do,” Sutherland said.

“We can’t always have these things if the economic doesn’t drive it.”

Coun. Jyoti Gondek also fired back at Woolley, saying that Calgarians are being charged for infrastructure in communities that don’t exist yet. She pointed out levies collected for new growth areas often result in projects that benefit established communities.

“The Max BRT routes, did they not benefit from new community growth?” Gondek asked.

“Yes, they did. Yes. I don’t actually need to ask questions because I know this for a fact, there is a list of established area projects that benefit from a portion of the levies that we collect for new community growth. So, it’s absolutely false to say that we added a tax on all residents to fund infrastructure for communities that don’t exist.”

Beltline pool decision pushed to late November

During the questions, the city said that $800,000 would be required to keep the Beltline pool and Inglewood pool open. It also said that even if the pools were closed, the city would need $400,000 to keep them closed and for ongoing operation. It would be a net savings of $400,000.

Coun. Woolley said if a partner operator were found, the cost to the city could even be less.

After the sparring was over, a recommendation by Woolley for the pool matter to be referred to budget adjustment deliberations was unanimously approved.