Edmonton's smaller rec centres could be sold, council hears

The City of Edmonton may sell some of its recreation facilities as council works toward trimming the operating budget. 

City suggests closing 3 community pools and 2 rinks next year to save $1.4M

Eastglen Leisure Centre in northeast Edmonton is on the table to be closed for good unless an outside group buys the centre. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The City of Edmonton may sell some of its recreation facilities as council works toward trimming the operating budget. 

Council began discussing the 2021 operating budget and the 2019-2022 capital budget Wednesday, with the goal of driving the property tax increase to zero per cent. 

City managers propose closing Eastglen, Scona and Oliver pools, along with Oliver and Tipton arenas to save the city $1.4 million next year. 

Rob Smyth, deputy manager of citizen services, said if council approves the recommendation, the facilities would remain closed unless another group vies to buy and operate them. 

"The only way they would open is if we can get a third party in there where there's absolutely no tax levy committed and a partner could re-open the building," Smyth said.

Coun. Tony Caterina said he supports the move to sell the facilities and get someone else to run them. 

"I think that is actually a good way to be thinking about this in the long-term." 

Debate goes back years

The debate on keeping the smaller facilities open goes back several years. 

    Coun. Andrew Knack said closing those facilities altogether is the wrong approach.

    "It goes against the city plan and this notion of 15-minute districts and and you think about some of those communities, where else would they go?"

    Knack pointed to Calgary as an example.

    "Most of their facilities — their recreation facilities — are not operated by the City of Calgary. Most of them are operated by partners. So I think in this challenging situation we're in, we need to be willing to look at some creative solutions."

    The city is also looking for outside partners to operate the Lewis Estates rec centre in his ward, Knack said. 

    Mayor Don Iveson says the bigger rec centres are more efficient for the city to run, noting the proximity of Commonwealth Rec Centre to Eastglen. 

    "I know Eastglen is a much-loved facility in the neighborhood, but it's just not as cost effective to operate as the new multipurpose rec center that is literally down the street," Iveson said.

    Knack said he expects council will move to request proposals to sell the facilities.

    Eliminating positions

    City managers also say the budget can be trimmed by another $18.2 million in workforce strategies.

    They've identified about 340 positions that could be cut, including 112 supervisor jobs, some of which could be eliminated by not rehiring current vacant positions. 

    Last year, council had approved a 3.2 per cent increase for 2021 and 2.4 percent for 2022. 

    The city will hold a public hearing on the budgets on Dec. 3 and begin debating the financial outlook on Dec. 7. Administration is also presenting specific impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.