‘Lopsided’ joint-use agreement scrapped

The Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre and the Sports Palace in High Prairie are two facilities that are part of a joint-use agreement with the Town of High Prairie, Big Lakes County and two local school divisions. The Town and County now want a new agreement with High Prairie School Division and Holy Family Catholic Regional Division.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County council is ready to go back to square one to draft a new joint-use agreement with the Town of High Prairie and local school divisions.

At its regular meeting Jan. 27, council approved a recommendation to terminate the joint-use agreement between the town, High Prairie School Division and Holy Family Catholic Regional Division.

The County’s partner in providing recreation, the Town of High Prairie, did the same at its smeeting Jan. 26.

Cojnty CAO Jordan Panasiuk presented the recommendation from the joint recreation committee of the Town and County.

“In reality, it is a lopsided agreement that gives both school divisions free access to our recreation facilities, yet retain the right to charge for the use of theirs,” Panasiuk says.

“We need to come back and negotiate an agreement that is more equitable.”

The original intent of the joint-use agreement was to provide more opportunities for recreation and outline how the four partners would make their facilities available for recreational pur- poses.

Panasiuk notes the agreement has not been used since March 2020 because of public health orders and restrictions during the pandemic.

The agreement was created in April 1999 and amended in September 2016, and provides access to the Sports Palace, the Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre Arena with the performing arts auditorium, the High Prairie Aquatic Centre and Jaycee Park to the HFCRD and HPSD for school activities.

School gymnasiums, classrooms and grounds are included in the agreement for community activities.

The joint-use committee met on Dec. 4 when the school divisions stated they did not have the funds available to help offset the operational costs for utilizing our recreation facilities, states a report for Panasiuk.

“In the past, both the Town and County were able to absorb the additional costs of providing free use to the schools,” Panasiuk says.

The pandemic has also caused a financial crunch for the Town.

“Unfortunately, CO- VID-19 has greatly affected the recreation budget that has resulted in increased fees and reduced level of service just to keep the budget allocations the same,” Panasiuk says.

Part of that reduction is to cancel the joint-use agreement, he adds.

Big Lakes council received an e-mail letter from High Prairie CAO Rod Risling, who reported on discussions with the Town and County representatives about the agreement.

“As the economic forecast is uncertain and provincial grant funding in jeopardy, this letter also serves as official notice to terminate the joint-use agreement,” Risling says.

The impact of COVID-19 has put a significant strain on the Town of High Prairie’s recreation facilities’ operations, he says.

“Due to the Government of Alberta’s public health orders, we have had to temporarily close our facilities or reduce the number of occupants allowed in each facility,” Risling says.

“In order to keep our facilities operational, the town was faced with the difficult decision to either increase our usage rates by 10 per cent or reduce our hours of operations.”

Only one council member voted against the recommendation that also directs administration to meet with the partners to start talks for a new agreement.

“I suggest we renegotiate the agreement, not just terminate it,” Reeve Ken Matthews says.

“It worked very well for a long time.”

Prairie Echo – Salt Prairie Councillor David Marx suggests the new agreement will be very different from the old agreement.

“There’s not much in the current agreement that we’ll use again,” says Marx, who was a Big Lakes representative on the High Prairie and District Recreation Board for many years until it returned to the Town of High Prairie as the recreation department a few years ago.

However, the reeve says all is not lost.

“There is some good stuff in here,” Matthews says.

Talks between the four partners are expected to start in the coming months.

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