The Pickleball Posse packed a punch at Monday night’s town council meeting.
A small army of fluorescent-clad Cochrane pickleball players successfully pled their case to council, earning a courtside victory as council flipped on its decision to award $125,000 from the parks and recreation levy fund to the sporting group’s application for outdoor pickleball courts.
“Everyone was ecstatic that council reversed their decision and allowed funding to go through,” said Joanne Ferfter, pickleball enthusiast who made a compelling presentation to council on the growing horde of players in town. More than 200 Cochranites play pickleball and are without dedicated courts for what is being called the fastest growing sport in North America.
The verdict was a 5-1 vote – Coun. Pat Wilson was absent – in favour of allocating $125,000 of levy dollars to the posse’s grant application for six outdoor pickleball courts, tentatively to be built in the East End near Frank Wills Memorial Hall.
The move will allow the pickleballers to meet their submission deadline for a provincial matching grant of $125,000 through the Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) that would cover the total costs of $250,000.
On Tuesday, Ferfter received news that though her original application had to be withdrawn after council initially denied the funding on Dec. 11 during budget deliberations, CFEP would permit the group to simply resubmit for the last deadline. A decision on the provincial funding will be reached within the next two months, instead of the group applying for the next round of submissions that would not be determined until much later in the year.
There are no tax implications for the council decision, but it does take around 20 per cent of the existing reserve dollars from the parks and recreation levy fund.
Sole dissenter Coun. Morgan Nagel said allocating that portion of the levy fund to a single user group is a reason to put a hold on the decision and invite all of Cochrane’s sporting groups and organizations to come to the table.
“It’s a little concerning that we gave away two years’ of recreation dollars so quickly,” said Nagel. “I think almost every single sporting group in town would tell you their needs are not being met.”
Nagel highlighted a desire to see a change in process, which would advertise available grant dollars in the future and create a bid system, in an effort to create fairness and transparency, citing comparable user group needs such as more ice surfaces and soccer pitches.
This desire to see an even playing field for all sports and recreation groups has prompted Coun. Tara McFadden to initiate a call for a parks and recreation committee – to move such asks for grant dollars out from behind closed doors.
“It flags what I see as this gap … how do you get your need identified?” said McFadden, an advocate for more task forces and public engagement.
McFadden would like to see a committee established with council, public and stakeholder representation – whereby priorities would be established to better inform council ahead of voting on specific applications from individual user groups.
Ferfter said her group has been in talks with administration for three years but this is the first time the posse has gone before council.
According to Ferfter’s research, Red Deer has nine outdoor courts with 160 players and just approved $1 million for 20 new outdoor courts. Edmonton has 42 outdoor courts. Canmore has two new outdoor courts.
Pickleball players currently share multi-purpose indoor courts at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre and two outdoor tennis courts in West Valley and two in Glenbow; these four outdoor tennis courts are to be re-surfaced this year and will continue to be shared multi-purpose courts.