It’s rare that a Prince George city council decision breaks out of the local newspapers and starts appearing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. But that’s just what happened with a Monday evening decision to build a new stand-alone ice arena.
Some quick background: as part of the 2015 Canada Winter Games bid, the city agreed to fix up existing ice facilities. That money, incidentally, comes out of a special tax levy the city created to pay for the games. So, money was budgeted to upgrade, at an expected cost of just under $16 million.
But ice rink users didn’t like that. They had been finding that ice time was slim and felt that the city needed to build a new arena. They showed up at council meetings and sent emails. It was enough for city council to ask for a report outlining a cost comparison between upgrading existing arenas and building a new standalone one. Staff warned that the report would add costs and push back an already tight timeline, but went ahead and did it. In the end, the original plan was estimated at $15.8 million. The new plan came in at just under $22.2 million. That’s an extra $6 million that isn’t being budgeted for. Council chose the more expensive option, and has now started a committee to find ways to cut costs and possibly delay other capital projects (such as upgrading taps at city hall) so they don’t have to raise taxes or borrow money.
Regardless of whether a city with three kin centres, the CN Centre, the coliseum, the Elks Centre, the outdoor ice oval plus numerous outdoor rinks really NEEDS to spend $6 million building yet another rink is necessary, there are a few things worth considering here. First, from the report, it says that in building a new arena the city would be committing to $16.8 million in capital costs. It goes on:
“City Council has currently approved the creation of a special tax levy to provide the approximately $11.1 million funding needed for Option A in addition to the improvement to other civic facilities. Option B would require an additional contribution of approximately $5.7 million, plus applicable taxes, to the 2015 Canada Winter Games capital budget in order to meet all the requirements in civic facilities.”
That extra $5.7 million? Well, as the Prince George Free Press points out:
“To put things in perspective, the extra money it would take to build Kin 4, if applied to the road rehabilitation budget, would double the amount of paving work for the next two years.”
But beyond that, there’s the ongoing operating costs. The report estimates that in order to operate the new arena the city will have to spend an extra $200,000 a year. Every year. Forever.
The Free Press goes on:
“This comes after a $35,000 study that recommended against building Kin 4.”
“Do we really need yet another ice sheet in Prince George? Those who use the ice sheets we have now will obviously say yes, but are they going to buck up and help fund it? The decision to build another arena has to be weighed against what we can afford and what the other needs of the community are. Another ice sheet is more of a want, than a need. We need better roads. We need our taxes to halt their exponential race to the sky. We need city council to realize there is an end to how much we can pay. We need city council to understand that the best “legacy” they can leave is to be responsible with the dollars they get from the taxpayers, not build monuments.”
For his part, Mayor Dan Rogers is concerned about cost overruns so early on. As he says in today’s Citizen:
“The city is on the hook for any overruns in operations or capital… I’ve been involved in organizing several major sporting events. Be conservative early on, because there are unknowns that will creep in.”
Ben Meisner is even more critical:
“The price tag for this one capital item has increased by about 30%. There will need to be upgrades to other facilities to meet Games standards but those details have yet to be determined.
What were they thinking?
Never mind the fact the City has entered into a contract with the Canada Games Council to provide the facilities as outlined in the bid.Never mind the fact that inflation is creeping up, and that means we can expect higher interest rates for any money borrowed.Never mind the fact that a new stand alone facility will cost more than $200 thousand a year to maintain and operate.Never mind the fact that we have an aging population and in all likelihood demand for such a facility will decrease.Never mind the fact that we have fewer children in the community which has resulted in the closure of schools.”
“There was never an opportunity for the electorate to evaluate the full costing and ongoing carrying costs of a winning bid… Council, IPG and the bid committee mislead the public by only talking about the positive (projected) benefits, and never fully outlining the real, immediate and ongoing costs (which clearly have no limit and are going up, up, up). There isn’t even a full business plan in place.
The fact is IF anything is to be built, based on 30 years of surveys of the citizenry and useage data and new economy realities, it should be creative infrastructure, not the second most expensive kind of sport infrastructure (behind a pool). Frankly, it was the Arts’ turn, in the form of a Performing Arts Centre, and a huge benefit to all.
Why do I know that? because unlike the unethical, bait-and-switch process we call winning the Canada Winter Games (see above) the Performing Arts Society spent months and months fully articulating the usage needs, opportunities, costing, business planning and partnering options, and fully disclosed that to everyone, even to their disadvantage (as much was misunderstood, especiallly what the city’s portion of the bill would be).
It’s fair to disagree with a PAC, but at least you have FACTS to disagree with.
Maybe you feel now is not the time (as we’ve collectively been saying for 30 years), and that’s fair.
Maybe you want nothing built (even the Library expansion should go ahead of another rink), and would prefer taxes come back down to earth and that City Hall focuses on cleaning up its own act.
That’s fine. But you MUST appreciate the process and transparency the Regional Performing Arts Centre Society has achieved, and continue to do so.
The Kin 4 proponents should feel like they cheated, not feel that they won. It simply wasn’t your turn. And council should have nipped this in the bud, and then when they did send it to administration for their opinion, actually listen to it.”
The Prince George Citizen’s Frank Peebles is more supportive of spending money on rinks because what we have isn’t good enough:
“The number of facilities is not the deciding factor, their quality is. You need multiple, preferably conjoined rinks (CN Centre, plus) that have ample seating space, commodious dressing rooms, effective equipment storage, attractive hospitality features, high-grade technical systems, telecommunications abilities, etc…”
“A grassroots contingent has emerged that strongly advocates building additional ice space. They will be at City Hall on Monday night to press their case to council.
They are correct. The scheduling pressure from figure skating, ringette, speed skating and hockey groups is becoming legitimately claustrophobic. We have a demonstrated need.
Let’s pause for a moment to stress that user groups should never be put on the hook for the capital costs of such facilities. A moderate rental fee is appropriate, but they shouldn’t have to take out the mortgage to build the thing (yes it has been suggested). It is City Hall’s job to provide the cultural and recreational facilities that will engage and retain a happy set of citizens and we all have to accept the tax bill for that. The benefits are massive, even if you choose to not be a user. Your doctor or teacher or plumber is.
This group’s excellent point is the cart, however, and the reconstruction of Kin 1 is the horse.”
One other aspect to this story is the reaction from the Prince George Exhibition, who at the time of this decision, were not consulted on the plan despite it directly affecting them.
On Facebook and Twitter I have seen mixed reaction. Sames goes for the comments sections of news sites. It’s early days on the Canada Games capital costs and we’re already seeing this level of debate and reaction. It’s obvious there is a passionate group of people who feel we need a new rink. They are organized, and they are sizable. There’s also a passionate group who think we don’t need one (now), and they are mixed between those who think the city shouldn’t be taking on more costs, period, and those who think they should be going elsewhere.
Either way, if you pay taxes in this city it’s your money at stake. How that money is spent is being fiercely debated. With municipal elections in November, it’s probably a good time to do some research and decide which side, if any, you’re on.
For more on this, CBC Daybreak North did a number of interviews, which you can listen to below. PGTV News also did a nice wrap-up, which you can watch here. If you’d like to watch the discussion in all its glory, streaming video is available from the city here (scroll down to item G6).
Prince George City Councillor Deborah Munoz on Daybreak North, June 15, 2011
Prince George Exhibition Manager Terri McConnachie on Daybreak North, June 16, 2011
Prince George City Councillor Shari Green on Daybreak North, June 17, 2011
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