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LETTER: Councillor makes impassioned argument for 'yes' vote in recreation referendum

Florio Vassilakakis has been a sitting member of city council since 2013.

In a letter to the editor in the April 19 edition of the Castlegar News, Councillor Bruno Tassone explains his reasoning for voting against a council motion to support the upcoming Regional District Recreation Complex referendum. While I respect his right to support or oppose any motion, I do not accept his asserted reasoning. As elected officials we have a responsibility to understand the issues and to be forthright in our communication with the public. Councillor Tassone, however, offered inaccurate and grossly exaggerated figures that I believe served no purpose other than to mislead and shock the public. His comments were irresponsible at best and reckless at worst, especially considering his knowledge that an updated report was to be imminently released. Councillor Tassone has a right to his own opinion but not to his own set of facts.  Councillors must be held to a higher standard.

At the Regular Public Meeting of council on April 23, council was presented with the report that outlined the assessment of the Municipal water infrastructure and the asset management plan. In it was a summary of the condition of our water assets and a list of the millions of dollars in capital investment made over the past years.  It also identified a small potential funding gap that can be solved through long term planning with rates, only if necessary. Yet we are led to believe, in (Tassone’s) letter, that Council and staff have barely acted on a 2009 study and have left the municipality’s water infrastructure in a massive hole.  This is simply not true.

Infrastructure management has been a Strategic Priority of council for at least as long as I have served on council and has always been a core responsibility of the municipality.  We have and continue to be committed to being good stewards of our assets through planning and capital investment.  The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s (RDCK) plan for upgrades at the Recreation Complex represents nearly four years of a public engagement process.  The Recreation Master Plan is also in and of itself asset management planning and infrastructure renewal for the recreation facilities themselves. This point could not possibly be lost on Councillor Tassone, considering his passion for not only underground infrastructure renewal but for other asset classes as well. 

The recreation complex is an aging facility that needs rejuvenation and upgrades and the Pioneer Arena needs replacement. No different than a pipe, it has been identified that the capacity and state of our current recreation facility is inadequate to service the public into the future. This is the very thing he has been advocating for, yet he says no.

We can say yes to infrastructure. We can say yes to recreation. We can do both. It’s not either or. As a comparative tax analysis shows, our residential taxation rates are competitive within our region. Our taxes are not high while our service levels are. The RDCK is asking for $11.22 a month or $135 a year on the average Castlegar home ($48.10/$100k of assessed property value). We can continue to be guardians of our pipes and infrastructure assets while also supporting the upgrades of the Recreation facilities that would benefit our entire community.

What needs to be clarified here is that the the Castlegar & District Community Recreation Complex is owned and operated by the Regional District of Central Kootenay. It is not a City of Castlegar owned facility nor is it funded by municipal taxation. As such it does not impact the City’s own budget. Further, it does not affect our ability to continue to invest in municipal infrastructure and other projects that benefit our residents and local businesses.

The Recreation Complex is co-funded by the taxpayers of Area I, Area J and Castlegar through RDCK taxation and has been for decades. The RDCK taxes for the Recreation Complex are no different than the school tax and hospital tax that are governed by different bodies and higher levels of government. We pay income tax and gas tax, carbon tax, sales tax, excise tax, liquor tax, and duties and ship them off to Victoria and Ottawa every day. We pay local property taxes to our municipality which represents perhaps the smallest portion of the overall tax burden. These local taxes go into supporting the services that affect your life daily and arguably more so than all of the other taxes combined. With this referendum, we are presented with the opportunity to invest directly back into our own community where the benefits will accrue to us for decades. We can choose to be bold, we can choose to invest in ourselves and we can choose to say yes.

We are elected to lead and represent all 8,039 of our citizens.  It’s time for all of us to lead for our children and our grandchildren, for our seniors and our families. I ask if not now, when? With the Federal and Provincial government showing their commitment and having announced an over-$150-million recreation infrastructure grant funding program for facilities such as this, the time is now. Join us and together we can build this community now and for our future generations.  

Vote Yes on June 23rd.

 Florio Vassilakakis
City of Castlegar Councillor