Council carried a motion during the Monday, Feb. 10 meeting in part directing administration to continue discussions with the Sundre and District Aquatic Society — the volunteer board currently responsible for operating the indoor pool and fitness centre — with a focus on determining the possibility of entering into a temporary operating lease agreement for up to one year.
Further to the motion was a directive to research costs for a consultant to review the expenses associated with operating the Aquaplex, as well as to ensure the public is kept informed on the process as information becomes available through avenues such as open houses, and to solicit feedback.
Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, said there had been discussions with the society regarding the operation of the Aquaplex, with a couple of potential options identified as a result.
“One was to hire a consulting firm to do a study and review of other similar facilities and come up with annual operating costs for a facility such as this,” Nelson told council.
While those figures would not be specific to Sundre, the information would at least provide a baseline from which to work, she said.
The second option was for the municipality to operate the Aquaplex through a temporary lease agreement, she added.
“That would give us some actual operating costs,” she said.
The intent would be to operate the facility for one year to obtain a better understanding of the operational and maintenance costs involved in running the Aquaplex, and then present that information to the public to let residents have a say before council makes a final decision, she said.
To initiate a discussion, Coun. Cheri Funke moved the motion as recommended by administration, and inquired how and when the public consultation would get underway.
“I want us to start now, to be open and honest with the residents that will be affected,” said Funke.
Nelson said the municipality could issue a public statement following council’s resolution.
Coun. Paul Isaac, who supported the motion, spoke favourably of pursuing a partnership with the society on the path moving forward, along the way keeping people informed.
“It is not a small financial operation,” Isaac said.
“This is a very new thing for our municipality to engage in, and it’s important to bring residents in.”
Coun. Richard Warnock, who also supported the motion, said the municipality does not yet know all of the facts and ramifications involved in assuming operations of the Aquaplex. But the councillor also expressed a desire to avoid stirring up fears about the potential cost to taxpayers.
“We don’t want residents to think we’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars, because we don’t know,” said Warnock.
Coun. Rob Wolfe, who later voted against the motion, said he partially was in favour, but expressed reservations.
“I don’t want to see any dollars spent until we know where it’s coming from. It’s not in our budget. It’s all speculation right now,” said Wolfe, who wanted to see cost projections from a consultant before entering into an agreement.
Providing clarification, Nelson said the municipality would for the time being only be discussing the substance of an agreement, that would alongside information obtained from a consultant be brought back to council at a later date before any final decision.
Mayor Terry Leslie, who supported the motion, expressed a sense of urgency.
The mayor said he is concerned about the timeline involved with the temporary lease agreement.
“It’s my understanding that they were hoping for some action on our part as council by the end of January. Now it’s February 10. But they did indicate that they’re approaching a time when they have to make a decision about closure, and that I think is for March 31,” he said.
“Time is of the essence.”
Wanting to move as quickly as possible on the lease agreement, he questioned the validity of hiring a consulting firm, adding numbers gleaned from other communities would not likely accurately reflect the situation specific to Sundre.
“The only way for us to get true operating costs is for us to run the facility,” he said.
And although the municipality will struggle to get full participation in any public engagement, the mayor said council owes it to the community to provide accurate projections and seek input from ratepayers.
Turning to administration, the mayor inquired whether there was a time frame to draft the lease agreement.
That would all hinge on discussions with the society regarding what the agreement would include, as well as consultations with the public, with a report coming back to council before engaging a lawyer to draft the lease, said Nelson.
“The timing for a lawyer, at this point, I can’t say,” she said.
“A week, a month?” pressed Leslie.
“I’m sorry, I can’t answer that,” replied Nelson.
“It depends on the discussions that we have with the Aquaplex,” she said.
Funke's earlier motion carried, with Wolfe opposed.