People from rural southeast Alberta who travel to Medicine Hat for recreational activities are to blame for City council increasing user fees at places like the Family Leisure Centre, Arena, and Esplanade, according to a statement made by mayor Ted Clugston at their Jan. 18 council meeting.
“(A large portion) of the people who use our facilities are not our residents, they live outside our borders,” Clugston is quoted as saying in a Jan. 20 Medicine Hat News article. “They are paying nothing towards the operating costs.”
“User fees are a way of getting back some of that money from surrounding communities,” Clugston went on to say.
Only councilors Bill Cocks, Robert Dumanowski, and Brian Varga voted against the motion to increase the fees.
What Clugston fails to mention is the many ways surrounding communities and their residents contribute to the city’s economy, whether through municipal contributions or through commerce.
A number of municipalities have paid financial support to various city facilities, including the Event Centre. The Town of Redcliff contributed $100,000 ($10,000 a year for 10 years) towards the Events Centre and early last year, Cypress County contributed $700,000 towards construction of the Events Centre.
Also, when people from outside the Medicine Hat are visiting the city, they are not only attending functions and activities at the Leisure Centre, Esplanade, or hockey arena, they are eating at local restaurants, shopping at Medicine Hat businesses, staying in the hotels and motels, and visiting local tourism attractions, all of which help drive Medicine Hat’s economy.
Citizens of Medicine Hat, in turn, attend sporting events (as participants and spectators) and other functions in neighbouring communities, but only on rare occasions do they visit the stores, tourist attractions, and other facilities in these small towns. A few city hockey teams hold their practices at some rural community arenas because they can not get ice time at any of the facilities in the city.
Medicine Hat guests to rural facilities attend the game or function, turn around and go home without giving a second glance at the other things the small community might have to offer.
Operating costs, renovations, and upgrades increase for all communities, whether it is urban or rural, and most people do not mind paying a little bit extra to use these facilities. The problem here, however, lies in being unfairly pigeonholed by a few members of City council who clearly have no understanding of how much people from outside city boundaries contribute to their fine city.