Harbour Grace prescribes poison pill
It was a closed meeting, but one can just imagine the look on the faces of Carbonear town councillors during an important gathering with their counterparts from Harbour Grace last week.
Carbonear leaders came to the meeting on Nov. 20, fully prepared to sign on for a joint project with Harbour Grace to help finance the municipal share — an estimated $3.8 million — of a proposed new $21-plus million sports arena, and pick up an equal share of any deficits incurred by the facility each year.
And like any equal partnership, they were expecting a say in every aspect of the planning, construction and operation. Since they were considering investing precious tax dollars in a project earmarked for a neighbouring community, this does not seem like an unreasonable expectation. And let’s not forget that some municipal leaders in Harbour Grace have noted in the past that the town could not afford the arena on its own.
What’s more, Carbonear councillors were putting their own political necks on the line by even suggesting a joint venture, since more than a few Carbonear taxpayers have raised questions about the prospect of helping pay for an arena in Harbour Grace. After all, plenty of work is still needed on roads and other infrastructure in Carbonear, and municipal taxes are expected to increase in 2013.
But any hopes of moving forward on a joint venture quickly went off the rails when Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs informed his counterparts from Carbonear that the arena would be built on Jamie’s Way, and that Harbour Grace would proceed with the project, with or without any help from neighbouring towns. Smack! That was the sound of jaws hitting the floor. We’re told the tone of the meeting quickly changed, and it was adjourned far earlier than most had expected. Up to late last week, no further talks had been planned, and there’s a chance that Harbour Grace may once again be saddled with the full cost of the project, further worrying already anxious taxpayers.
By unilaterally deciding on a location, Harbour Grace had injected a poison pill into the proceedings, and signalled they were interested in a equal partnership, but only on their terms.
This is not the way to form a relationship, especially when you’ve been actively courting other towns for help, and one Carbonear councillor suggested that the level of trust between the two parties had evaporated.
In a show of good faith, Harbour Grace leaders would have been better served to leave all the decisions in the hands of a board consisting of elected officials from both towns, user group representatives, and various experts.
Jamie’s Way may well be selected as the preferred site, but at least there would have been consultation and input from a broad range of voices.
So once again, the project is on shaky ground, and that’s the last thing we need.
— Terry Roberts