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Picture of Parks and Recreation DirectorRecreation: More than “Fun & Games”

By Trisha Davison, Parks and Recreation Director

The situation our region finds itself in regarding the withdrawal of funding for recreation services by the surrounding municipal jurisdictions is one that all members of our respective communities should be gravely concerned about. This issue is far more than “do I use the service or not” or “how frequently do I or others use the service”. Maybe those are the tangible items that people can hold onto, but the impact of the decisions being made around the region are far greater reaching.

The profession of Parks and Recreation, with the support of the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA), has spent decades advocating the value of parks and recreation services and the positive impact those services bring to individuals and to a community as a whole. The issue plaguing recreation in our region begs a couple of important questions: What type of community do you want to live in? And what creates a strong resilient community?

The first local government legislation in BC, the Municipal Act (1872) listed the “preservation of public health” as one of the 31 areas of local government responsibility. Over time the definition of health services grew to include a host of services such as water, sewers, police/fire protection, and parks and recreation to name a few. Promoting healthy communities is at the heart of what local government continues to be all about. Local governments have the power to impact policy, develop communities, and establish and support societal values. In a community, the development of healthy people is supported when the local conditions support healthy behaviours and choices where people live, work, learn and play. Local governments have the ability to create such societal conditions.

There is strong research in the field of recreation that shows recreation and parks are “essential to personal health and wellbeing, provide the key to balanced human development, provide a foundation for quality of life, reduce self-destructive and anti-social behaviour, build strong families and healthy communities, reduce health care, and are a significant economic generator.” Direct service delivery is only one aspect of a municipal recreation service. For example in Trail we are also facilitators of leisure for clubs and organizations with over 100+ users groups providing leisure service to our region through Trail Parks and Recreation facilities and parks. It is these meaningful volunteer opportunities that assist with creating engaged citizens and a sense of community pride. Volunteer-led recreation based organizations are our single largest partner in recreation service delivery and these regional decisions will impact virtually every one of these groups.

In 2012, Parks services through Trail Parks and Recreation had over 7,700 hours booked by different user groups. These activities, which are all volunteer-led, represent 10 different sports and various community gatherings and events by members of our respective communities. Trail Parks and Recreation provided direct programs for an additional 900 hours in park facilities. Virtually every one of these hours was used by multijurisdictional groups of active citizens. This figure does not account for the informal uses of parks and green spaces where people walk Haley Track in the morning, enjoy a cup of coffee along the Esplanade, or visit Gyro Park in the summer with their families.

A tremendous amount of work has been done by the BCRPA to align the recreation profession with the health care community as there is an intimate connection between health, health promotion, and wellbeing. The research clearly shows that regular physical activity leads to significantly reduced risks of a number of chronic health diseases such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, colon and breast cancers, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. In fact, being physically inactive increases an individual’s risk of seven chronic conditions by 30-60%. There is irrefutable evidence around the prevention of these chronic conditions through physical activity.

Interior Health released a “Local Area Profile” in October 2012 for the “Trail Local Health Area” (Trail, Warfield, Rossland) which compares how local area rates compare to the province and the overall Interior Health Authority (IHA) in a variety of areas including health status and social determinants of health. In all areas related to the chronic disease prevalence rates, the Trail Local Health area ranked higher than both the IHA and provincial statistics by a range of .6 to 2.7%. Specifically, the chronic diseases looked at in the study included depression, asthma, COPD, diabetes, dementia, and heart failure.

In Trail, Parks and Recreation staff work with many local service providers who serve a wide variety of groups of the population within the region. We work with mental health, the Trail Association for Community Living, rehabilitation therapists, minor sport groups, adult sport groups, the Interior Health Authority, private sector organizations, Trail Fair Society, the School District, and service clubs such as Rotary to name a few. We have been working to evolve our relationships to continue to grow and offer meaningful, varied opportunities in our community to serve the needs and interests of these organizations. All of these organizations serve people that cross municipal boundaries in some way or another and in many cases are mandated to do so.

Our ability to work with many of these groups, who serve a large segment of our collective population, to develop new wellness programs and improve access to services is in jeopardy. How do many of these service organizations get the support they need when the region can’t decide to support the very infrastructure required for these recreation opportunities to exist? What is the impact on the many volunteer sport organizers who are our largest partners in recreation service delivery? According to the BCRPA Performance Measurement Project report prepared by Krueger and Associates, 20% of BC’s population is already noted as finding their days “quite a bit or extremely stressful” and this situation is most certainly not helping to improve this statistic.

An example of an impact of the funding situation is on the current development of a comprehensive leisure access program that was in the Trail Parks and Recreation operational plan for 2014. The development of this program would require partnerships with several social service providers in the area who serve people that face barriers to participation for various reasons. How does a program like this get created or be effectively supported when the certainty of funding is not there? What impact does further limiting or creating barriers to access recreation services have on these organizations let alone, and in many ways more importantly, the people in need that they serve?

The dual rate system does not compensate for the loss of operating funds previously provided by surrounding communities. It is likely that the reduction of these funds will negatively impact the City of Trail’s ability to sustain operations to the level the collective greater community has learned to enjoy. Though the reimbursement system in the Beaver Valley and Warfield may benefit users in those communities that provide it, the net removal of operating funds and the impact to service remains. Operating budgets are planned based on factors that are known in a given year and a “user-pay” system as implemented by the surrounding communities is far too uncertain for effective planning. As a reminder, five years ago when the dual rate system was implemented and there were no recreation agreements in place, Trail Parks and Recreation lost 33% of service at the Trail Aquatic and Leisure Center (TALC) and a full time position within the maintenance operation. Service levels were not restored even when most surrounding communities developed recreation agreements with the City as operating funds were still approximately $500,000 less than what was needed to sustain service levels to what they were previously.

Loss of operating funds means Trail residents are impacted too; it is not just those users who have to pay higher fees who are impacted. Loss of service is the most simplistic noticeable impact to everyone. If a sports team folds as a result of individuals choosing to not participate in the sports pass program, if there is less opportunity for people to enjoy varied activities or if sufficient funds are not raised through the sports pass program to support continued operational service levels (ie. parks), everyone will lose.

Public recreation often ranks in the top three expenses for a municipality next to or higher than police and fire protection. Trail Parks and Recreation has an operating budget of $3.4m for 2014 and over the past three years, Trail has made capital improvements to the major recreation infrastructure in excess of $4.1m. How does it seem reasonable that Trail taxpayers should absorb all costs to provide all services to people in six surrounding municipal jurisdictions? Imagine what the costs would be if capital, money used to ensure the service remains viable, were to be factored into the “two tiered rate system”. Currently capital expenditures are the sole responsibility of the Trail taxpayer.

The “user-pay” system implemented by the surrounding communities appears to reflect a “private sector” philosophy of service provision where an individual pays. Whereas the philosophy of Parks and Recreation in BC is one based on the provision of a public service where the community benefits. A public good can be defined as a service that has an indirect benefit to all whether the service is used or not. If someone asked what dollar figure was appropriate to tax a household to provide a service that helped to ensure your own mental health, sense of community, or physical wellbeing or to ensure that service was available to you when you, your child’s, a family member, or members of your community, needed or wanted it, it would be interesting to note what that dollar value would be.

With the knowledge that in BC obesity is on the rise (26% of children), with 1 in 3 people living with a chronic disease, and with 50% of adults and 91% of children not getting the recommended levels of physical activity, does the withdrawal from a public service that provides so much to so many still seem like the right thing to do? The same research shows that by simply providing publically funded infrastructure, physical activity levels are improved, in particular for children. There is a strong trend in recreation services to create more unstructured activities for people to use whether it is through trail systems, passive park space, or increased opportunity to “drop in” to an activity versus committing to multiple weeks. Children, youth and seniors are of the largest groups who use this area of service delivery. How do we calculate the value of these services? We can’t count the number and frequency of people that do recreation “informally”.

What will it take for the region to really feel the value of recreation service as a public good and the impact these regional decisions will have on all our communities? Will it be the impact of unmaintained or unusable sports fields, less hours of operation at the pool, less employment opportunities, rundown playgrounds, the inability to host sporting events or will it be less people moving or wanting to live here, a poor economy, lower rates of heath and wellness in our communities, a lack of community pride, or a lack of community engagement? These decisions will cost us all one way or another.

Trisha Davison

Director of Parks and Recreation

City of Trail

References:

Ministry of Health, January 2014, “How do Local Governments Improve Health and Community well-being?”,http://planh.ca

Trail Parks and Recreation, 2012 User Stats, Trail Parks and Recreation Master Plan (2013)

Interior Health, Healthy Communities Initiative Presentation “Partnering with Local Governments to Promote Healthier Communities”, presentation by Kerri Wall, Community Health Facilitator

Interior Health, Local Health Area Profile – Trail Local Health Area, issued October 2012

British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (2013), “BCRPA Recreation and Parks Performance Measurement Project”, Krueger, Dr. Hans et al

 

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