Town Council voted 4-3 Thursday night to help Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) respond to a fiscal blow brought by the COVID-19 crisis.
When provincial COVID-19 regulations forced recreation facility closures in March, SLSFSC lost its largest revenue stream; it will not be permitted to fully re-open until Alberta moves into stage 3 of the provincial re-launch plan.
“SLSFSC is an incredible asset to our community and contributes significantly to the quality of life of Cochrane children, adults and seniors,” says Mayor Jeff Genung. “It is much more than a sports facility: it is a significant point of community connection that elevates health and wellness — something we need now more than ever.”
“The toll the pandemic has had on the physical and mental well-being of Cochrane residents should not be underestimated,” says Mayor Genung. "Our community, along with our partner, own the facility and we want to ensure it is ready to open to serve our community as soon as the restrictions are lifted.”
SLSFSC has already laid off most staff, applied for relief programs and reduced costs where possible. Despite these measures, the board of directors is estimating an additional operating shortfall, mostly in monthly fixed costs and some remaining payroll costs.
At the May 28 Council meeting, SLSFSC asked the Town for an additional $1.5 million to cover the operating impacts of COVID-19, and a further $165,000 for emergent capital requirements.
The financial estimate is based on 50% re-opening by September 1, followed by a phased re-opening of other areas by December. The final 2020 financial impact will not be known until early 2021.
The request was granted with conditions.
Council approved using a combination of cost savings from reducing staffing and other budgeted costs and drawing from operating reserves to fund the shortfall.
The funding conditions approved by Council are intended to ensure the Town is kept informed of the ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19 on SLSFSC. They include requirements to find efficiencies and to use specified operating reserves. Any amounts withdrawn from operating reserves are required to be replaced over the next four years at 1.5% interest. Council also asked for written monthly financial updates for the rest of the year.
The funding plan includes provisions to replace the reserve draws over the next four years, resulting in a $1.72/month tax increase in 2021 on the average residential property.
The Town is a co-owner of SLSFSC (along with Rocky View County); the facility is operated by the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society and governed by a board of volunteer directors.