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Pemberton should have 'fair shot' at Meadow Park programming, says resident

Village officials feel non-residents should be able to register at same time as Whistlerites



Pemberton officials are echoing the frustration of a local mother who says non-resident users of the Meadow Park Sports Centre (MPSC) should be given the same access to recreational programming as Whistlerites, considering they already pay an additional surcharge to use the facility in certain cases.

Bree Thorlakson is feeling frustrated after she learned there were no spots left to register her three-year-old daughter for weekend swim classes at Meadow Park this fall. Priority registration is given to resort residents while non-residents must wait an extra week to sign up on top of a 33-per-cent surcharge fee for certain recreational programming, including swimming.

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden indicated there may be additional swim classes added to the fall program yet, although these have not yet been confirmed.

The RMOW introduced the non-resident fee last year after officials from Pemberton and the SLRD turned down the municipality's request to subsidize their communities' usage of the recreational facility.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make but the fact of the matter is that 60 per cent of the operating costs for Meadow Park Sports Centre are subsidized by municipal taxpayers," said Wilhelm-Morden. "It's not as if we're raking in a ton of dough and making some profit off the back of Pembertonians, that's not what's happening at all. We need to subsidize the cost of this sports centre."

Whistler taxpayers currently subsidize the bulk of Meadow Park's annual $2.1-million operations, maintenance and infrastructure costs. Approximately 10 per cent of Meadow Park users, including a third of swimming pool users, are from outside of Whistler.

Thorlakson said she's more than willing to pay the additional fee, but feels like restricting non-residents' access to programming is unfair.

"I feel like if we're going to pay (additional) user fees that we should have equal accessibility to be able to sign up at the same time (as Whistler residents) and have a fair shot at it," she said. "I feel like they're just double-punishing us now."

One Pemberton official reiterated the concerns of Thorlakson and other Pemberton residents during question period at Tuesday's council meeting.

"We realize we're not taxpayers (in Whistler) and I don't think people have an issue with paying a little more... but if we're going to be penalized by paying more to subsidize the tax base, then I think our residents shouldn't (pay) another penalty on top of that by choosing second," said Councillor Alan LeBlanc.

On the flipside, however, Wilhelm-Morden said that, as Whistler taxpayers, residents should be given first crack at registration.

"We do pay high taxes in this town and as a parent or a user of the facility, the swimming pool in particular, if I couldn't get swimming lessons for my child or for my own benefit because classes were filled up by residents of neighbouring towns who don't pay taxes here, I think I'd be a little bit cross about that," she said.

Acting Pemberton mayor Mike Richman said the biggest complaint he's heard on the issue has been around priority registration, and that there needs to be discussion between Sea to Sky communities in the future over how to best share recreation facilities.

"There may be other facilities in the near or distant future or needs for both communities, and how do we look at building facilities or accommodating those needs so that both communities can use it?" he asked.

Though it would not have included a pool, Pemberton residents turned down a proposal for a multi-sport recreation complex of their own in a referendum earlier this year, voting overwhelmingly against borrowing $4.8 million, repayable through taxation, to build the facility.

"If you're going to (ask us) spend millions on a field house then why don't you spend $100,000 every year to let us have the same access (to Meadow Park)?" Thorlakson asked.

"I'm just frustrated with both (Pemberton and Whistler)," she said.

"Let's remember what's important here; it's about kids and recreation, it's about healthy and happy communities and coming together as a corridor. When people are pointing fingers, I just don't think they're keeping the interest of the child in mind."

—with files from Eric MacKenzie


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