Mayor Jeff Genung broke a 3-3 tie to approve providing up $1.5 million to the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) with a series of conditions attached.
After hearing a back and forth debate, Mayor Genung weighed in with a 10-minute presentation supporting the funding. He also cautioned councillors on the tone of the debate.
"I'm very concerned and disappointed in the potential message that we are sending to our volunteer board. whom we have designated the operating authority of this asset."
"Under arguably the most severe circumstances, we are choosing this time to question their abilities and competence, and I feel that is so unfair."
He denounced councillor Tara McFadden's idea of establishing a reopening task force for much the same reason.
"I really feel this comes down to trust. If we are to form a task force, we're essentially telling the board we have no confidence in you, that we don't trust the numbers you're giving us and we don't take your advice on how to operate our $100 million asset."
He echoed Councillor Morgan Nagel's comment that the centre must be in a position to open as soon as possible for the physical and mental benefit of residents, and this is a cost we need to bear.
Councillors Marni Fedeyko, Patrick Wilson, and McFadden all stood opposed to lending up to $1.5 million to the family sports facility, and instead favoured providing $700,000.
In one financial scenarios examined, providing $700,000 would mean both the SLSFSC and Cochrane Arena would remain closed until the end of December.
All opposed councillors said it wasn't a question of trust, it was about the amount.
Councillor Fedeyko said she believed it was more important to reduce the property tax increase of 1.93 per cent.
"I am not in support of supporting this up to $1.5 million at this time," said Fedeyko. "I would like to honestly see a reduction of property taxes down to one per cent in 2020, and I don't want to necessarily add over one per cent to 2021 when we don't have a clear picture of the true financial impact COVID will have on our community overall."
Councillor Wilson believed these discussions could have come in March and wanted to provide $700,000.
"I would hope that management and decision-makers of the facility will use this downtime to re-evaluate how we would move toward operational cost neutral in the future. While it's perhaps an unreachable target while managing a pool and sports facility, movement towards this goal should be a principle yardstick of success, in my opinion."
Councillor McFadden questioned if it was a wise use of taxpayers' money.
She favoured providing three months of operational expenses to be repaid with no interest. She also proposed forming a reopening task force.
"Working with a task force like we are with the economic and social, we could probably reach a higher level of security that we're making the best use of taxpayers dollars."
Councillor Alex Reed, who represents council on the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society, pointed out SLSFSC had over 600,0000 visitors last year and benefits the well-being of our residents.
"Spray Lakes is an incredible asset in the community, and if ever there was a time we needed it, it's now."
Councillor Flowers believes it's a common-sense approach to what we are facing with COVID-19.
"It's not the same as every other organization out there. It's our responsibility to get it back up and running for the health and wellness of our community."
Councillor Nagel said to not be prepared to do everything in our power to reopen would make us look like fools.
"We're at the end of the lockdown. Donald Trump is reopening America. Trudeau is reopening Canada. All the premiers are reopening their provinces. And if we decide this week to spend $700,000 to shut something down while everyone else is opening things up, I think we would look like total fools."
Before the lengthy debate, Katherine Van Keimpema, general manager of town corporate services, outlined the proposed loan and the following terms:
- Efficiencies are to be found by SLSFSC and Town departments to offset the funding request to the greatest extent possible;
- Any remaining funding requirements are to be supported from the SLSFSC operating reserve held by the Town and Town Planning and Development operating reserves;
- Any amounts withdrawn from Town Planning and Development operating reserves are to be replaced over the next four years with interest at 1.5 per cent;
- SLSFSC shall provide a monthly financial update to Council for the remainder of 2020; and
- SLSFSC shall access the additional operating and capital funding by requesting draws, in writing, as part of their monthly financial update.
The estimated shortfall is based upon a 50 per cent return to operations by Sept. 1, followed by a phased reopening of other areas for the balance of the year. They currently expect to be 100 per cent operational by the end of the year, but that depends upon the directives of Alberta Health Services.
A clearer financial picture of the full impact of COVID-19 for 2020 won't be known until the end of the year.
The funding plan includes provisions to replace the reserve draws over the next four years, resulting in a $1.72/month tax increase in 2021 on the average residential property.
Borrowing funds from town reserves will keep the property tax increase at 1.93 per cent this year, as originally approved by town council. It will add an estimated 0.92 per cent to taxes in 2021.
The sports centre and Cochrane Arena, both operated by the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society, was ordered closed on Mar. 15 by the province because of COVID-19. Two days later, they laid off 175 members of their staff.
None of the councillors questioned providing $165,000 in capital funding in addition to the operating loan. They will be used to fund crucial repairs required to the roof, back-flow preventers, and compressors of the Cochrane Arena.