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Pooling money

Cumulatively it’s the heftiest price tag attached to a city infrastructure project since the Sportsplex opened its doors in late 2008.

Ringing in at $8 million, repairs and upgrades to the Terrace Aquatic Centre have been given serious attention during the last month’s budget deliberations in city hall, sprung from recommendations  in a $22,000 report commissioned from a Vancouver architect.

“We’re going to rebuild this pool over the next 10 - 15 years,” said the city’s finance director Ron Bowles, adding the report was commissioned to answer the question — rebuild or build anew?

There’s a laundry list of structural repairs, enhancement and maintenance projects identified in the report for a rebuild, each categorized by varying priorities, time frames and dollars associated ­— although the list’s order varies depending on who is talking.

Vastly differing opinions on council about what should be tackled first, a firmly held first-project pick from staff with up to a $1.9 million price tag (that’s $100,000 shy of needing a referendum to proceed), and not-so-subtle hints that the city is expecting  some kind of substantial revenue increase from one of its many not-yet-materialized land business ventures have made choosing a course of action a convoluted process.

That process came to a halt last week during one of the city’s final budget meetings where a $1.9 million staff recommendation to expand the aquatic centre 1,600 square feet on its west side, replacing the wall with glass and adding a waterslide was wiped from the 2013 budget line-up altogether.

Instead, budgeting for the project won’t show up on the city’s balance sheet until 2014 and council will re-evaluate its priorities in the springtime. The rationale is to give city leisure services director Carmen Didier more time to apply for grants to ease the impact on local taxpayers.

Specifically, the grant wish list includes a federal program dispensing grants of less than $250,000 and hopes of receiving about $30,000 from the Northern Development Initiative Trust, the development agency set up with the proceeds from the sale of BC Rail to CN.

Terrace Mayor Dave Pernarowski has dropped hints that a deal for one of the city’s  properties may provide revenues that could be applied to the project – although whatever closed-door deals being worked on have yet to surface during the current round of city budget meetings.

“We looked at it and there’s some possibilities for some new taxation,” added city finance director Ron Bowles at a council meeting last week about why administrators are recommending a pool project delay.

“Would it be reasonable to say that in 2016/2017 that we’re going to see some taxation from some new construction? Well, that’s reasonable.”

Another indication of this was a recommendation that the city tackle all project components with an estimated $8 million price. That recommendation came from Pernarowski at a budget meeting Nov. 19 and stands in contrast to what had been sessions featuring more cautious spending plans.

He suggested that a percentage of land sales from the city be funneled into an account specifically for the purpose of community infrastructure. “This would be a reserve fund that would be specific to building community space,” said Pernarowski.

Councillor Brian Downie has pointed out that the spending model applied to the project will greatly influence what gets done in what order, adding that decisions will need to be based on an understanding of how much money the city has available to it and what sort of time frame payments are spread out over.

“If we only had a [set amount of money] and we had to spend it on various things... options would be different then if you’re looking at a phased approach over years and working towards it on a multi-year program,” he said.

Like Pernarowski, Downie has a more liberal spending attitude toward the project, noting the importance the aquatic centre has to the community, placing emphasis on aesthetics.

Out of three options listed by staff for replacing the west wall; first, by using existing materials and rebuilding the wall for $150,000; next, replacing the west wall with a glass wall for $600,000; and third, by installing the glass wall, extending the square footage of the building and including a custom water slide and accessibility improvements for $1.9 million – Downie has leaned toward the larger of the three.

“Having more natural light in the pool has been brought to me as something that’s missing,” he said. “So, I can see the value in that.”

He noted that as the first priority is health and safety the wall is an obvious first pick, but that the chance to replace it will only come around once.

But other council members took a much more conservative approach.

“It’s an awful lot of money,” said councillor Lynne Christiansen, adding the $1.9 million first-step should be pared back, noting it’s also important to distribute money across various areas of the community. “I’m a little nervous about throwing so much money onto the recreation side,” she said.

Councillor Marylin Davies agreed.

“There’s no way I can support that. I don’t think we are a city that is economically able to take that step at this time,” she said.

To pay for projects, money from the leisure service department’s capital budget would be pooled with money the city would borrow and pay back over the short-term – the length of which would vary depending on how much is borrowed. Some money from the city’s yearly $800,000 surplus account would also be used, said Bowles, adding grants could reduce the amount that is borrowed. He added money wouldn’t be spent in one year either.

Based on the report commissioned from Bruce Carscadden Architect Inc., the firm that designed Terrace’s Sportsplex, city staff presented a list of 10 spending priorities with associated time lines and costs. As the staff-recommended first step is to spend on the slide and glass wall upgrade, councillors Bruce Bidgood and James Cordeiro raised concern about spending on aesthetics before function.

“Replacing (the wall) with the same material and doing numbers one to five is the same cost as doing one with additional space and the waterslide,” said Cordeiro.

But now, council will be waiting to see what, if any, new money is added to the city’s revenue total before proceeding.

“We can have all of these conversations just a little bit down the road,” said Pernarowski to council members who were confused about the sudden stop during the last round of budget talks.  “We are just simply deferring to see if we can get more money.”

“You may be putting the cart before the horse here,” said councillor Marylin Davies in response.

 

For full page documents from the pool review, see here.

 

 

And city staff's list of 10 spending priorities here.

 

 

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