The current city fees and charges bylaw will be undergoing a review that could potentially threaten for-profit businesses in Fernie such as tennis and aquatic physiotherapy.
According to Cam Mertz, Director of Leisure Services, the current city bylaw was drafted in 1999 and last reviewed in 2008.
“The bylaw is somewhat outdated,” said Mertz. “We have to go back and look at how we can be a bit more strategic with dealing with some of the operational costs of some of our facilities.”
Mertz said that he assumes that under the review, recommendations on how to deal with commercial businesses accessing publicly funded facilities will be addressed, as it currently isn’t in the bylaw.
“None of the recommendations have been made yet,” said Mertz, “and council will have the ultimate decision on what happens with those recommendations.”
Mertz cited the Fernie Memorial Arena as an example of why the bylaw needs to change.
“Right now, somebody from Calgary can rent the arena for the same price that Fernie Minor Hockey can. I’m assuming that that needs to change because Fernie Minor Hockey is paying a user fee based on a subsidy from the tax dollars that are collected from local residents.”
Mertz added, “Can you imagine if a commercial business operated at a playground and you, as a public tax-paying member of the community, were not able to access that playground? You’d be a little upset.”
Currently, there are no plans for the bylaw review to be implemented anywhere else in the valley.
Charlotte Willis, a tennis instructor who has run her business, Fernie Tennis Coaching, for the last five years is concerned that the possibility for a change in the bylaw will put an end to her tennis program.
Willis goes to schools in Fernie and Sparwood and reaches more than 1500 students every year.
“I am not against the charge,” said Willis. “However, they are proposing that it will be a blanket charge with no consideration to small operations such as myself. I just want them to consider the smaller businesses and the good they do for the community, ensuring that the fee is affordable.”
Marlene Vale, who hopes to provide aquatic rehabilitation services at the Fernie Aquatic Center is also worried about the review.
Vale had intended on moving forward with her business but said she was advised against it by the City of Fernie.
“Currently in Fernie we offer AquaFit and that’s it,” said Vale. “We don’t offer much here, so it’s essential to have some sort of a therapy service in the pool and in the Elk Valley nobody really offers that.”
Vale intended to run her business Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the pool, hours that Vale says is normally quiet for the center.
“If the pool is there, it should be used. They’re kind of punishing us in a way for using it,” Vale commented.
Vale said that if the charge ends up being too much, she will move her business and clients to Sparwood.
“I understand that they want to charge independent contractors, however, I’m promoting the pool,” explained Vale. “I’m bringing people there and paying my entrance fee as well my client to get into the pool. We’re already paying to use the pool and I don’t understand why I would have to pay extra beyond that.”
For Mertz, the bottom line is that, “It isn’t the city’s responsibility to provide publicly funded spaces for for-profit businesses.” During the review, public consultation will be taken into account, according to Mertz.