Council passes sizeable expenditure before election

Last week, council agreed to commit to spending $1.4 million for upgrades to Robron Park

City council has already tied up funding that could have been used by the future council in next year’s budget planning.

Last week, council agreed to commit to spending $1.4 million for upgrades to Robron Park, that include new bleachers, trails, an artificial turf, utilities and drainage and Merecroft and South Birth parking lot upgrades.

The city’s portion of the cost would come from the parks parcel tax, field user fees, the gaming reserve and the community works fund.

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s manager of parks, recreation and culture said the city will apply for the province’s recently announced $30 million grant for local recreation projects. Milnthorp said the city will ask for 50 per cent of the project costs, or $1.77 million, from the province even though the new recreation grant will fund up to 80 per cent.

“We felt 80 per cent wouldn’t be considered (due to the cost), so we’re asking in the neighbourhood of 50 per cent,” Milnthorp said at last week’s Tuesday council meeting.

Milnthorp further estimated that the federal government would chip in another $1 million for the project but said if the funding does not materialize or if it’s less than anticipated, council could choose to make up the difference by dipping into the capital lending reserve, which would then be paid back over three years from the gaming reserve.

Laura Ciarniello, the city’s general manager of corporate services, said by voting to spend the money it will tie up the $1.4 million.

“You will see when you go into budget deliberations that these funds have been already allocated,” Ciarniello said. “My understanding is this money will be put aside and precluded from being used anywhere else.”

Although council had to commit to funding the project in order to apply for the provincial recreation grant, Milnthorp assured council it could still re-consider.

He said if, during budget deliberations, council wished to change its mind and free up dollars, it could rescind the motion to spend the money on Robron Park.

Outgoing Mayor Charlie Cornfield said he disagreed with spending the money right now.

“I think you’re committing a future council to something that can wait until financial planning, so I won’t support it (the motion),” Cornfield said.

Coun. Mary Storry questioned how good the city’s chances are of getting the funding it’s asking for from the province.

Milnthorp said it’s possible the province could come back with a smaller figure but he’s optimistic.

“It’s a pretty shovel-ready project and I’ve had some discussions with the (Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) and it seems they’re very interested in this project,” Milnthorp said.

Coun. Andy Adams, who asked the city to apply for the provincial grant two weeks ago, said he wants to see the project move forward and suggested the project could be scaled back if the funding does not come through.

Coun. Claire Moglove said the recreation grant is a golden opportunity for the city.

“I think we need to take advantage of any provincial funding that’s available for this project,” Moglove said.

In the end, the motion to spend the $1.4 million passed, with Stewart and Cornfield opposed.