The pool at the Otter Co-op Outdoor Experience re-opened in Aldergrove this August. Langley Township council is considering re-opening W.C. Blair as well. (Black Press Media files)

Council debates opening next pool – W.C. Blair or Walnut Grove?

Costs are higher for Walnut Grove, park staff say

Re-opening Langley Township’s pools and rec centres could result in tax increases from between one to seven per cent next year, according to a report presented to council Monday, Oct. 5.

During an afternoon debate, council discussed re-opening either W.C. Blair or Walnut Grove’s pool, and grappled with the costs of opening rec facilities when revenues are far below normal due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A report on a phased re-opening of more recreation facilities noted the possible costs of re-opening the W.C. Blair and Walnut Grove Recreation Centres.

Parks staff recommended re-opening the W.C. Blair Pool and its rec facilities in early November, making it the second indoor pool to re-open after the Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centre re-opened its pool to a limited number of users in August.

READ MORE: Aldergrove pool reopens for public swim

READ MORE: Aldergrove pool re-opens to delight of community

“This would be our second year-round pool that would be opening,” said deputy parks and recreation director Rob Stare.

Under the plan, Walnut Grove’s pool would be re-opened in January.

But opening the existing rec facilities – in Aldergrove and at Brookswood’s George Preston Recreation Centre – has already led to costs equivalent to a one per cent increase in property taxes, the report says.

Re-opening W.C. Blair would increase that to 1.67 per cent. Council will have to raise taxes or find savings elsewhere in the budget to cover the costs.

Adding the Walnut Grove pool would raise costs to a 3.19 per cent tax increase next year, and opening all rec facilities could mean approximately a 7.0 per cent tax increase.

Township administrator Mark Bakken noted that labour is the major driver of costs for rec facilities, and that COVID-19 restrictions mean more labour costs even as revenues go down.

For example, the same number of lifeguards are needed for pools like Aldergrove or W.C. Blair, but rules allow a maximum of 50 people in a sports facility, down from the hundreds who could potentially have used it before the pandemic.

Then there are additional costs for enhanced cleaning, Bakken said.

Councillor Bob Long asked why W.C. Blair was being considered for the next re-opening rather than Walnut Grove, which serves a more different area of the Township from Aldergrove.

“I really think we should be opening Walnut Grove before Blair,” Long said.

Both pools were considered, Stare said, but because Blair is smaller, it will cost about 25 per cent less to re-open despite the fact that both pools would take in about the same amount of revenue because of user limits.

In addition, there are rehabilitative programs at W.C. Blair.

Long moved to open Walnut Grove first, and ultimately the council voted to defer that decision to the next council meeting after getting more detailed financial information about the implications of that choice.

“To me, geographically it makes more sense, population wise, it makes more sense,” said Long. He noted that W.C. Blair is only about 16 minutes from Aldergrove.

During the debate, Coun. Kim Richter asked about whether Langley City residents could be charged higher fees to use the Blair Pool to recover more costs.

That has been considered, said Township administrator Mark Bakken. “The cost of doing so has often exceeded the revenue,” he said.

Up to 48 people are allowed at public swims right now, a slight increase from the 40 that the Aldergrove Pool started with, said Stare.

Ice rinks started with 14 people on the ice at Aldergrove and George Preston, and are now up to 25, but it depends on the type of group and what they are using for the facilities, he said.

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