St. Albert city council has voted to implement higher recreation user-fees for those who live in other municipalities.
The higher fees are scheduled to come into effect April 1, 2023. Residents from municipalities which have recreation-related agreements with St. Albert, such as an inter-municipal collaboration framework (ICF), however, will be exempt from the higher fees.
While St. Albert shares an ICF agreement with Edmonton and Morinville, other municipalities including Sturgeon County, Strathcona County, and Parkland County would be subject to increased fees.
Brought forward by Coun. Sheena Hughes, the motion invites these remaining municipalities to enter into a similar framework.
When putting forward the motion on Tuesday, June 7, Hughes said she wants a balanced approach to sharing St. Albert's recreation services with others in the region.
“What I’d like to see is that we do have agreements with each one of these municipalities that surround us, and that we look to make sure that we are not subsidizing other municipalities’ use of our services,” Hughes said.
Hughes noted St. Albert will be faced with substantial service-reduction-related decisions come budget season, when a staff-anticipated 2023 tax increase of seven per cent will need to be whittled down.
“We can’t afford to continue to subsidize without have any agreement,” Hughes said. “This is about opening the door for open discussion … and it’s about ensuring that we’re putting our residents first.”
Increase could come with downsides: report
An administrative analysis presented to council alongside Hughes’s motion said increasing non-resident fees could generate additional revenue from more than 30 per cent of the users of facilities and programs in St. Albert.
However, this revenue might not materialize if non-residents decide to go elsewhere once costs rise, the report said. Additionally, the city will be left with the cost of implementing and policing the new fee policy, and could face extra costs related to training staff in dealing with customer service issues resulting from the increase.
Other potential downsides the report listed included the potential for other municipalities to begin upping non-resident fees, in return pushing higher prices on to St. Albert residents.
The report said St. Albert is “unaware of any municipalities in the capital region that have differential fees based on residence, and highlighted that ticket and pass sales for major recreation and cultural centres comprise close to 60 per cent of total facility revenues.
“Wise business acumen would suggest that operators should maximize pass holder and ticket sales and meeting this challenge does not mean differentiating between the origin of users,” the report said.
Council members favour increased fees
Council members did not comment on the report findings, passing the motion with little discussion.
Coun. Wes Brodhead spoke in support of Hughes’s motion, highlighting the portion that invites agreements with other municipalities.
“The idea here is we want to have a relationship with our neighbours,” Brodhead said. “To me, the best result at the end of the day is we all have agreed upon collaboration agreements between all our neighbouring municipalities, and we all are feeling comfortable about how that works.”
The motion for the increased fees for non-residents passed unanimously. City staff will return to council with an implementation and costing plan by the end of 2022.