Council considers taking on debt for Robron Park

City council is looking at borrowing nearly $1 million to upgrade Robron Park

City council is looking at borrowing nearly $1 million to upgrade Robron Park.

City staff presented council with a report outlining the financing options to complete the project which includes an artificial turf, upgrades to the parking lots off Merecroft and South Birch, utilities and drainage, upper walkway and lookouts, paths/trails, spectator spine/bleachers and all hard and soft landscaping.

Laura Ciarniello, the city’s general manager of corporate services, said the work is estimated to cost $4.88 million.

The amount available in the city’s 2013 budget is just $1.57 million, which leaves the city with a shortfall of available cash.

Ciarniello said council is leaning towards a financing option that would see the project “funded through short term, five-year Municipal Finance Authority (MFA) debt with principal and interest payments being funded through an increase in the Parks Parcel Tax,” Ciarniello said in a report to council.

City staff is proposing the city borrow $813,500 over five years – a period of time which would avoid a $50,000 referendum –  and pay it back by raising the Parks Parcel Tax for taxpayers.

Staff suggests council make up the rest of the project funding by borrowing from the city’s own Fixed Asset Replacement Reserve.

“The borrowing of $3.3 million, from a combination of MFA and the Fixed Asset Replacement Reserve will require increases to the Parks Parcel Tax in each of the years 2014-2018 to meet the principal and interest payments over the five years,” Ciarniello said.

The Parks Parcel Tax is set at $50 for each of the years between 2014 and 2018 but city staff is proposing it be raised to $95 in both 2014 and 2015, and to $77 each year from 2016-2018.

Ciarniello said reallocating Parks Parcel Tax funds to the Robron project will result in the tax being oversubscribed by thousands of dollars in four of the next five years.

Ciarniello said as a consequence, “staff will require input from council as to which projects will be delayed or will be cancelled to ensure that the parks parcel tax is not over subscribed.”

Robron Park has been a controversial topic for years. In 2008, a city referendum seeking elector support for borrowing money for Robron and a new entertainment centre was defeated, however, phase one of the project (outdoor lacrosse box, relocation of tennis courts and a new playground) was completed.

Phase two and three have been bounced around by council since then. Last year, the city applied for funding from the province’s Community Recreation Program to complete the final phases only to months later withdraw its application to instead support the Strathcona Regional District’s application to the same program for arena improvements at Strathcona Gardens.

Coun. Andy Adams brought Robron back to the council table during this year’s financial plan meetings in January, after the city’s Strategic Parks Plan survey showed Robron as the public’s number one parks priority.

The survey was completed by 644 people and was not statistically valid as it was self-selected, meaning people chose whether they wanted to take the online survey.