Calgary Herald

Calgary groups clamour for a share of city’s new community fund

Library project in the lead

- JaSoN markuSoff

Calgary’s new $42-million annual community projects fund wound up seeming rather puny after groups urged aldermen Wednesday to spend it on big-ticket items, from a new central library to little-noticed critical facility repairs, and everything in between.

Like 75 new indoor tennis courts sought by Tennis Alberta.

Or $10 million in five years to give Calgary Zoo improved facilities that will better its animal care, its communicat­ions director told a city committee.

And imagine the outcry if for 40,000 Calgary golfers there was only one dedicated golf course — an analogy the mother of two avid skateboard­ers used to plead for something more than Calgary’s sole major skate park.

“They are not hooligans. They’re hard-working athletes,” Whelan said of Calgary’s many skaters.

The wish list’s scope led rookie Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra

While this is a bit of a windfall, it is a minor windfall.

alD. Gian-carlo carra

to admit: “The moral of the story is that while this is a bit of a windfall, it is a minor windfall. And we have to make sure that we’re very, very coherent about how we spend it.”

City officials will by June fine-tune a list of new projects and upgrades that deserve the first five years of the $42-million fund, created by council last month to raise its own 2011 taxes further by occupying “tax room” unused by the provincial property tax levy.

Amid some public complaints that that was an unfair tax grab, council has expressed a wish to do something grand with that money — and a longdelaye­d central library is the most likely project.

George Brookman echoed that ambition, as spokesman for Transforma­tion Calgary, an emerging group of philanthro­pists that is prodding the city for new public landmarks.

“It is in our opinion critical that the council use these funds in ways that have bold, obvious and exciting results for the people of Calgary,” he said.

Major donors will likely step up with money of their own if there are firm commitment­s, said Brookman, who also chair’s Calgary’s tourism agency. There’s a downside to not backing the big-ticket items, he added.

“If the public sees us just dribbling that money away, then they become very suspect to any initiative that would say this city needs more money.”

Brookman also rhymed off other major projects the city could fuel with this fund, such as major recreation centres and a new convention centre.

There’s likely funding in this ongoing cache to support the library project down the road, but the city can’t ignore the small stuff, warned Erika Hargesheim­er, general manager for community services.

“Any one project could consume this funding for 10 years, but our goal is to have a balanced view, across this city, in every quadrant of the city,” she said.

The committee swatted down attempts by Ald. Andre Chabot — one of three council opponents of the taxpayers’ fund — to divert some of the money to make buildings for city staff more efficient, or only pledge one years’ instalment of the $42 million and potentiall­y use the rest to blunt future tax hikes.

“Politicall­y, it looks really good if you can say to the general public, ‘Look what we built with your money,’” he said.

“I think most members of council think through things too much politicall­y, as opposed to financiall­y sustainabl­e types of positions.”

He even suggested that council could try to squeeze more space out of the existing central library until the city has a healthier balance sheet.

But that seems a minority view; Ald. Brian Pincott told the committee that nearly all e-mails he’s received on the issue are demanding a new downtown library.

Council tried giving the project a kick-start in 2004 with a $40-million pledge, but planning stagnation and other city priorities have stalled progress, save the recent efforts to secure a site.

The city’s community-infrastruc­ture priorities list also has a lengthy inventory of swimming-pool roof replacemen­ts, pathway repairs and other long-deferred maintenanc­e, which several presenters to the committee also said can’t be ignored.

“If we can’t commit to (renewing) and maintainin­g our community infrastruc­ture, then we probably shouldn’t be building it in the first place,” said Katherine van Kooy, of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizati­ons.

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