On thin ice in Har­bour Grace

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

Dear Ed­i­tor:

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.

Shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion

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

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