Ex­hi­bi­tion Park project voted down

Four pro­posed amend­ments also fail at CIP de­lib­er­a­tions

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Melissa Vil­leneuve LETH­BRIDGE HER­ALD

Af­ter four hours of dis­cus­sion and four pro­posed amend­ments, Fi­nance Com­mit­tee voted not to in­clude Ex­hi­bi­tion Park’s Trade, Con­ven­tion Cen­tre & Agriplex in the draft 2018-27 Cap­i­tal Im­prove­ment Pro­gram.

In a tie vote of 44, Coun. Joe Mauro’s res­o­lu­tion to in­clude the $78mil­lion project was de­feated. Coun. Brid­get Mearns excused her­self from the de­lib­er­a­tions.

Any project can be brought back for dis­cus­sion dur­ing the CIP process, how­ever. But as of the end of Wed­nes­day, it’s off the books.

It was the first of $284 mil­lion to­tal un­funded Com­mu­nity Cap­i­tal Projects up for dis­cus­sion. They are all vy­ing for a por­tion of the ap­prox­i­mately $62.6 mil­lion avail­able.

The project was planned to be­gin with a $2.2-mil­lion de­tailed de­sign process (of which Ex­hi­bi­tion Park would kick in half the funds) for 2018. Phase 1 would in­volve con­struc­tion of the Trade and Con­ven­tion Cen­tre at a cost of $59.8 mil­lion in 2021 (with Ex­hi­bi­tion Park con­tribut­ing $2 mil­lion).

The sec­ond phase, con­struc­tion of the $16-mil­lion Agriplex, was pushed back four years to 2026, be­fore de­lib­er­a­tions be­gan.

An amend­ment was first pro­posed by Mayor Chris Spear­man to re­move the con­ven­tion cen­tre por­tion from the project. Spear­man cited the need for greater con­ver­sa­tion around a proper lo­ca­tion for a con­ven­tion cen­tre, not­ing a study pre­sented last week sug­gested the down­town would be bet­ter suited.

The re­de­vel­op­ment plans have been in the works for years and more than $9.3 mil­lion has al­ready been in­vested into in­fra­struc­ture, noted Mauro. City coun­cil had also com­mit­ted $25 mil­lion in con­di­tional fund­ing in the pre­vi­ous CIP.

Mauro said to pull out of the project now is a dis­ser­vice to the com­mu­nity. He said Ex­hi­bi­tion Park’s main goal is to ex­pand so they can con­tinue to do what they’ve done best for more than a cen­tury. They’re turn­ing away lots of ex­hibitors and the city is los­ing money. Spear­man’s amend­ment was de­feated 6-2.

A sec­ond amend­ment was pro­posed by Coun. Jeff Carl­son to move the Phase 1 build time­line back by one year to 2022. This would put it be­yond the four-year ap­proved fund­ing win­dow, with no con­firmed fund­ing source. The pro­vin­cial Mu­nic­i­pal Sus­tain­abil­ity Ini­tia­tive grant is slated to end in 2021 and no re­place­ment has been an­nounced.

Carl­son added a clause to the pro­posed amend­ment for the City Man­ager to de­velop a fund­ing strat­egy for the project.

Mauro noted the project has shown a great deal of com­mu­nity in­ter­est, spurring thou­sands of emails and phone calls in sup­port. He said this project has been vet­ted over and over by con­sul­tants, com­mit­tees and stake­holder groups. There is no op­er­a­tional cost to the city, and Ex­hi­bi­tion Park has al­ways kicked in funds, he added.

“We have ba­si­cally given them, in my opin­ion, lip ser­vice,” said Mauro. “How can you on one hand say it’s a great project, the com­mu­nity loves it, it’s needed for the city, but let’s move it out of the four-year win­dow and put it in 2022. We know any­thing out­side of the four-year win­dow is ba­si­cally smoke and mir­rors be­cause... we may not be here.”

Carl­son’s pro­posed amend­ment was de­feated 4-4. A third amend­ment was brought for­ward by Coun. Jef­frey Coff­man. He pro­posed $23.9 mil­lion Phase 1 fund­ing in 2021 and $33.9 mil­lion in 2022, with City Man­ager to de­velop strat­egy for 2022 funds and no con­struc­tion un­til con­fir­ma­tion that all fund­ing is in place.

Coff­man said this makes a com­mit­ment to the com­mu­nity that we be­lieve in this project. His pro­posed amend­ment was also de­feated 4-4.

A fourth amend­ment pro­posed by Spear­man looked at im­pos­ing a prop­erty tax in­crease to res­i­dents to help fund the cost of bor­row­ing to pay for the project. It would in­volve an in­crease of up to one per cent over four years from 2019-22. How­ever, tax­pay­ers could be stuck with higher rates for the du­ra­tion of the bor­row­ing pe­riod up to 15 years.

Carl­son said it would be pru­dent to con­sider that other projects yet to be dis­cussed, such as build­ing a new west­side fire hall, may have an im­pact on tax­a­tion.

Spear­man noted if they’re go­ing to take on sig­nif­i­cant projects, “we need to be re­al­is­tic about the costs.” This is about be­ing open and trans­par­ent to cit­i­zens, he said.

“We have to re­al­ize, when we take on a project, it’s a dif­fi­cult bal­ance that we have to make as coun­cil­lors be­tween the wants of the com­mu­nity and the costs of sat­is­fy­ing those wants,” he said. “So if there is a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the com­mu­nity that wants this project to move for­ward, they would be pre­pared to pay for it when it’s a bighit item.”

Mauro said dur­ing his many past CIP bud­get dis­cus­sions this has never been done for any other projects. He said “hur­dle af­ter hur­dle” has been “thrown up” against this project. If they’re go­ing to add a tax in­crease to fund this project, why not treat other projects equally, he won­dered. This pro­posed amend­ment was also de­feated 5-3.

With all four amend­ments de­feated, Mauro’s res­o­lu­tion to in­clude Ex­hi­bi­tion Park’s Trade, Con­ven­tion Cen­tre & Agriplex in the draft CIP stood as it was first pre­sented. A tie vote of 4-4 struck it from the books, for now.

An­other 21 un­funded Com­mu­nity Cap­i­tal Projects re­main up for dis­cus­sion. Fi­nance Com­mit­tee de­lib­er­a­tions are sched­uled from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to­day. All are wel­come to at­tend or watch the de­lib­er­a­tions live on­line at www.leth­bridge.ca.

A draft ver­sion of the 2018-27 CIP is also avail­able on­line. It is ex­pected to come be­fore coun­cil for fi­nal ap­proval on May 23.

Fol­low @Melis­saVHer­ald on Twit­ter

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.