While one might have expected to hear all about facts and figures in Monday night’s meeting for Regina’s 2019 city budget, but people pleading for a community pool took up most of the time.
Twenty-eight delegates were set to speak on Monday night on the budget, and 17 of those were talking about Maple Leaf Pool. It’s set to close ahead of next summer.
“I was absolutely gutted to hear about Maple Leaf Pool,” was one of the first things Riley Munro said as he took his turn in front of city council.
Munro introduced himself as a former city lifeguard, having worked at Maple Leaf Pool in particular for several years.
“It’s one of those facilities that just, it’s a part of our city and a part of our community and to see it go,” he paused. “It can’t happen.”
The Heritage neighbourhood where the pool is located has many residents with lower income levels and many with single-parent households as well. Munro said many of the kids don’t have anywhere else to go in the summer.
“The pool is filling a gap that the schools would usually fill – so providing lunches, providing adult supervision, support.”
Munro also described fun at the pool – colouring, playing tag, or painting people’s toenails.
“Acting as that big brother or big sister role really makes a huge difference in those kids’ lives – well, any kids’ lives, but in particular that pool.”
One idea from the city is to give out free passes to Wascana Pool, but Munro said that won’t work. He said they’d done that before at the pool when it had to be shut down because of maintenance, but he said the kids didn’t go.
Another suggestion from the city for that neighbourhood is to replace the pool with a spray pad or a PlayEscapes. Munro didn’t like those ideas.
He said spray pads only serve a very small, young segment of the kids there, and PlayEscapes require a certain amount of time and attention from guardians or parents – something not all kids in that neighbourhood have.
Ultimately, Munro hopes the city will be able to find the money to replace Maple Leaf Pool. Even if it means taking some money out of the $16 million earmarked for the new aquatic centre planned for Wascana Pool.
Munro’s points were echoed by many of the delegates who spoke in support of the pool.
One woman said her daughter cried when she heard the pool would be closed. “It’s their joy, it’s their summer, it’s life to them.”
A former city councilor, Wilma Staff, spoke to the issue and advocated for money to be split between Wascana and Maple Leaf pools.
An acupuncturist spoke to the need for kids to be able to get fresh air and vigorous exercise in the summer and noted the pool is one of the few ways to do it in that neighbourhood.
Nearly half of the five and a half hours set aside to debate the budget on Monday night was taken up by delegates speaking on the pool issue.
Afterwards, Mayor Michael Fougere said they have some very strong opinions and it’s good to hear.
“They were very powerful in their messaging and it certainly has an impact on everyone, no question about that.”
He wouldn’t say what he thinks should happen with the pool, explaining that he wants to hear what other councillors have to say and to hear back from city administration on background issues first.
“None of these issues are easy issues … We’re trying to find ways to move forward in a way that meets the needs of the community but also is financially responsible for the city, and that’s a balance we’re going to have to look at.”
Other delegates had other issues in mind. Two spoke about non-profit daycares, advocating once again for a tax exemption.
One man spoke about the need for the rebate to be restored for solid waste disposal at condos.
There were also several delegates talking about the budget, and urging the council to lower the tax increase – some with more fervour than others. Two delegates from the Association of Regina Realtors spoke about how the current proposed increase could impact the housing market in the city which is already hurting.
REGINA POLICE BUDGET
City council did manage to get one thing done before calling it a night on Monday, they passed the Regina Police Service’s $92 million budget unanimously.
Chief Evan Bray was on hand and said they did a lot of cutting to get the budget down to that.
Council will pick up with the rest of the budget Tuesday night.