By COLLIN GALLANT on December 8, 2021.
A debate about the future of two city recreation centres front and centre during an election campaign could be decided later this month when city council takes up a twice-delayed budget amendment for 2022.
A vote on those proposed changes was pushed off for the second time in two weeks on Monday as council called for more detailed budget figures on a “line-by-line” basis.
That came two weeks after a similar, though vague, call for more information led administrators to provide options to reopen the Moose and Crestwood recreation centres at a combined cost of $900,000 in 2022.
Coun. Shila Sharps pushed for a delay in November, then supported another call for information this week.
“We still haven’t got the line items we requested,” she told the News. “I want to see a budget, not just the high-level (analysis). If we’re spending a million dollars, what are we spending it on.
“People will ask, ‘If we’re spending money, why is Crestwood closed?’.”
The two centres and a forthcoming parks and recreation master plan became a major focus of the October election.
Mayor Linnsie Clark, who supported the budget pause on Monday, campaigned on favouring local neighbourhood facilities when financially prudent, rather than regionalization and conglomeration with new facilities.
Some incumbents and especially former mayor Ted Clugston said the move to more regional, multi-use facilities made long-term financial sense and mirror community planning philosophy in the recently adopted Municipal Development plan.
New budget backgrounder shown to council on Monday states operating costs of $300,000 at the rink and $600,000 for the pool and fitness centre, which could come out of from the recently former city operating reserve.
Another $1.2 million would be needed to fix the rink’s ice slab from an infrastructure reserve fund – work first scheduled four years ago, but delayed and then last year cancelled.
City managers say Crestwood would require $7.5 million in maintenance work in the next five to seven years.
Council is now considering a tax proposal for 2022 to cover a $7.6-million shortfall via a 2.5% property tax increase, $2.5 million in spending cuts and $2.5 million from reserves.
Coun. Ramona Robins, who chairs the committee that oversees the parks department, told the News she was initially surprised to see bare numbers in the initial budget presentation. She later inquired to find out no provision had been made to open the centres.
“I haven’t seen the results of the (master plan) public consultations, but certainly the people who contact me are interested in keeping them open,” said Robins, who said opinion on council is still being decided.
“We need to know what’s happening financially.”
She said the Dec. 13 meeting of the public services committee will include a tour of the facilities. Robins said she wants more information provided at that time.
Coun. Robert Dumanowski said he’ll take part in the facility tour, but the master plan will likely have more weight in his decision on the facilities.
“We can make those changes at a future point,” he said while arguing against delaying the budget further.
Coun. Darren Hirsch said he would not block a minor delay in passing the budget.
“I can certainly empathize with new councillors … being asked to approve a budget on which they have limited eye-sight,” he said.
The two centres were closed to meet provincial health orders during the early stages of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, then kept closed when measures eased because administrators felt meeting guidelines would be cost prohibitive. That considered that visits were still limited and the Family Leisure Centre was operating under capacity.
Several times this fall administrators and councillors have said the ice slab at the Moose is failing and creating soft patches, which presents a danger to skaters.
Work had been scheduled to revamp the slab in 2018, but the project was paused as ice times and facilities were studied. The allotted debt financing for the project was cancelled last year to make room for stimulus grant construction work that required some city spending.
Before the item was tabled, council approved an amendment to move ahead with a $250,000 planning study for the downtown area.