On thin ice in Harbour Grace
The mayor of Harbour Grace, Don Coombs, got a “time out” last month from Carbonear-harbour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy. Apparently, Mayor Coombs stated in an interview with VOCM that he would like to see the new stadium slated for Harbour Grace started in April.
Now, Mayor Coombs has been referred to in the past as “promise Don,” but this was taking things a bit too far, and Kennedy got upset because he said Coombs’ timeline was creating an “unreasonable expectation in the minds of the people of the area.”
The air got a little “chilly” and Kennedy sent off an email to Coombs and the Harbour Grace town council, basically telling them to get their act together and not make any public comments unless their information is accurate. Sounds like they were told.
This really started in November when the Town of Harbour Grace, during a council meeting, agreed to accept the offer for funding to build a new stadium from the provincial government. The Compass carried the story and printed that the province would provide 80 per cent, or about $15 million, towards a new stadium, while the Town of Harbour Grace would be responsible for the remaining 20 per cent, or about $3.8 million.
Towns with populations over 3,000 are responsible for 20 per cent of the cost of such facilities under the current cost-sharing formula with the province. If the population of Harbour Grace, which is currently just barely over 3,000, were to dip under that mark, the town would only be responsible for 10 per cent of the cost.
In this same article, Coombs stated that, “When the results of the next national census comes out in 2012, the town will be laughing if its population is below 3,000 because if the arena were to end up costing $15 million, at 10 per cent, that’s $1.5 million we’d have to come up with.”
It seems here that Mayor Coombs is saying that the town would actually benefit if the population drops below 3,000. Is he serious? Does he think we would all be laughing if our population drops below 3,000 people? This is no laughing matter. I want to be part of a growing, vibrant community. Not a diminishing one.
Right now we have a provincial government willing to give Harbour Grace some $16 million for a new stadium, as long as the town can afford its share. But the fly in the ointment here is that there are two town councillors who have already voted against the new stadium being built. They think the current stadium is sufficient.
The question is: are they right? Can the taxpayers of Harbour Grace afford a new stadium? And not just a stadium — more of a complex that holds the town council office and maybe even a curling rink?
Citizens should have a say
The people of Harbour Grace never voted on this very important issue and maybe they should. This venture is just too important to have this council, who are already in disagreement over it, and a mayor who is hoping for the unbelievable — a decline in town’s population in order to finance it — making a decision that will have an economic impact on this community for future generations.
I live in Riverhead, Harbour Grace and I pay a lot of taxes for the services I get. Will a multi-million-dollar stadium cause my taxes to go up? How can it not! And even if our taxes go up, will it be enough to cover the operating costs of such a new facility? The town’s budget is only $2.5 million.
Two officials with the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts, Ed Neil and Norm Hill, stated in The Compass recently that maybe it is time for a few communities in this region to come together and share the cost of a regional facility. A new concept? No. But one that’s time has come.
For many years, long before the curling club in Harbour Grace closed and when I served on the Harbour Grace town council, I had conversations with people from all over this region about the idea of a shared community recreation area that would house a skating rink, a curling rink, a bowling alley and maybe an indoor gym.
Many agreed that it was a good idea, but most wanted it in their back- yard, while others said the towns in the area would never get along long enough to let it happen. Maybe the winds of change have blown our way and now we are more open-minded.
The idea of a regional sports complex is a good one, but will never come to fruition without several communities agreeing to work together. This facility would have to be built somewhere between Carbonear and Bay Roberts, be managed by a professional and run by a board of directors comprised of people from these communities and a representative from the provincial department of finance or tourism.
Would I be willing to travel out of this community to go to such a complex? Yes. But the ideal location may be on the highway around the Harbour Grace access road, as it is ideally located between some of the more populated communities. I am willing to bet many, many people would be willing to travel 10 to 15 minutes if we had such a complex.
Touting regional co-operation
According to the 2006 Census, the population of Bay Roberts, Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Spaniard’s Bay and Victoria is about 18,000. The only community with an increase in population from 2001 to 2006 was Bay Roberts, which went up 3.4 per cent. The Town of Harbour Grace had the biggest decline, at 9.1 per cent.
If we included people from the other surrounding communities, includ- ing down the shore to Brigus, we might have enough support for such a regional facility.
In The Compass article, Kennedy said “he won’t be around forever” and that could mean that he might retire early, or be voted out in the next election, and the Town of Harbour Grace needs to decide if it wants the $16 million or not.
So, it is still not too late. I suggest that before the Town of Harbour Grace has its books reviewed for financial ability for the project, and before any tenders are called, the mayor and councillors of the communities in Conception Bay North get together and discuss this idea of building a regional sports complex.
An agreement would not happen overnight, but it would be worth the wait. A complex that included a rink or two for skating, hockey and curling, a bowling alley, a gym for indoor sports, an exercise room, a food court and maybe even a swimming pool would be a great service to this area and might do wonders to bring communities together for future projects.
Regional co-operation. Towns working together. Better use of tax dollars. If the government is willing to give millions to the Town of Harbour Grace for a stadium, what might they contribute to a regional facility managed by personnel hired by the regional board that operates it? Imagine the possibilities. Michelle Cleary-haire writes from
Riverhead, Harbour Grace