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MD of Bighorn revisiting recreation policy for first time in over 30 years

Administration flagged the policy for review acknowledging it is outdated and has a lack of clear definition around what constitutes a recreation program, causing potential challenges in policy adherence.

MD OF BIGHORN – MD of Bighorn council will revisit a decades-old policy dealing with how the municipal district spends on recreation that hasn’t been reviewed since its passage in 1991.

Administration flagged the policy for review, acknowledging it is outdated and has a lack of clear definition around what constitutes a recreation program, causing potential challenges in policy adherence.

The current policy states the MD will not spend more on a recreation program internally than what it does externally through recreation agreements with other municipalities like Canmore and Cochrane.

Governance and priorities committee (GPC) member Rick Tuza expressed concern at the numbers shared with GPC at its June 25 meeting, noting the MD currently budgets about $10,000 annually for recreation funding within the MD, including community service grants and its community enhancement program reserve account, but is contributing $103,057 to the Town of Canmore in 2024.

“We’ve obviously been breaching the policy for decades,” Tuza said, making the motion that the policy return to Bighorn council to be rescinded or re-written. “I think the public needs to hear and it will give them an opportunity to contact the councillors and what they like or don’t like about the policy and how much we’ve been spending on recreation.”

The MD estimates it will contribute about $110,271 to the Town of Canmore through its recreation agreement in 2025. That agreement expires Dec. 31, 2025.

Bighorn partners with Cochrane in an annual recreation agreement, too, contributing $6,040 in 2024 and up for renewal this year.

The MD funds its community associations to maintain and develop recreation facilities, offering some internal programming where facilities exist. However, recreation opportunities are limited by the MD’s population size and financial constraints, as well as the geographically dispersed nature of its population.

The MD of Bighorn’s contribution to its recreation agreement with Canmore is calculated using a fixed rate per permanent Bow Valley resident, based on the latest census data.

Essentially, it is a per capita calculation where each permanent resident contributes a set amount towards the funding of recreational activities as agreed upon in the partnership with Canmore, which has been in place for more than two decades.

CAO Shaina Tutt clarified the MD’s annual contributions are not the problem, but the lack of clarity around how a recreation program is defined in its own policy is.

The policy is worded such that it leaves room for interpretation. There is no definition of what a recreation program is – if it applies to specific courses or to recreation programming as a whole.

“That’s where these issues come up in some of these older policies is they were written based on the way that policies were supposed to be written at the time and they’re outdated and they’re missing key elements that help us with our policies today,” said Tutt.

“Today, we highlighted in the past discussion [of this policy] that there was a missing definition (…).”

“That’s where this is problematic on multiple levels. I wouldn’t say that we’ve been acting in contravention of anything, and I don’t have any concerns about defending how we’ve approached recreation to the public with respect to this. We’re not in contravention of the policy, there’s no definition to the policy is the bigger problem.”

Looking at the MD’s current budget, the CAO said the recreation items Bighorn pays for – including staff – compared to what Bighorn pays Cochrane and Canmore for recreation agreements, is likely closely balanced.

Tuza noted his comments about contravening policy were not meant to be critical, but rather a testament to the need to update the policy.

A 2022 governance audit of the MD of Bighorn by George B. Cuff and Associates Ltd. revealed an overall need to update many of Bighorn’s policies and bylaws, some of which were found to not have been revisited in 10 years or more since drafted.

MD council will also be revisiting its policy on capital support of rural and urban cultural and recreational facilities, passed in 2015. 

The policy notes the MD will consider providing capital funds to municipalities such as the towns of Cochrane and Canmore, the Village of Cremona and specific areas of Mountain View County and Rocky View County for facilities such as indoor aquatic centres, indoor arenas with ice surfaces, specialized multi-purpose facilities, visual and performing arts cultural centres and specialized outdoor playing fields. 

The policy considers driving distance that MD users would be expected to drive to reach a facility, as well as contribution levels typically considered for each type of facility. 

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

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