by Tristan Turner
Residents had yet another opportunity to share their vision for the Town’s rec centre project with Council last week. Morinville residents and rec stakeholder groups met with Councillors, the Mayor, and Architecture Tkalcic Bengert (ATB) — the Town’s contractor — Oct. 28 to hash out community expectations for the project.
More than 100 people attended the event, which consisted of a short presentation and a public question and answer segment. ATB partner Brian Bengert and RC Strategies Robert Parks, both of whom will have play major roles in the project going forward, were on hand to speak to the community.
Both Mr. Bengert and Mr. Parks talked about opportunities for the project and continued to stress the community’s engagement as being important in the process. They presented a diagram that drew squares over the 77-acre plot the Town has already purchased for the project, illustrating the different structures that could be built in stages. They illustrated how an arena could be built now as one ‘box’, with others such as an aquatic centre added later.
Mayor Lisa Holmes’ short message repeated once again her optimism for the project, and encouraged citizens to “get involved early.”
The questions of the night ranged from the critical to the optimistic. Chamber of Commerce President Simon Boersma was dissatisfied with the answers he received about the funding of the project when it was revealed some of the project’s $13.75 million budget may need to be borrowed.
“You mentioned that we’ve got a $13.75 million fund for this project without a tax increase. And it was mentioned that the town has the capacity to borrow another $22 million. How much of that $13.75 million was part of the $22 million [potential to be borrowed]?”
Mayor Holmes responded by saying the $13.75 million is mostly provincial and federal grants, including Federal Gas Tax, Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding, and other grant streams.
“We’ve received a commitment from the Minister [of Municipal Affairs] last year that we can use $9 million of our MSI funding on this project over the next five years,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we get a $9 million cheque all at once. So we have to in some ways borrow some of the $13.75 million now if we have to pay a big bill, but we will get the money from the MSI to pay it off, so it won’t be paid [with taxes].”
Boersma was unsatisfied with the mayor’s answer and asked his question again. Mayor Holmes stressed that until the process gets started, the Town can’t know all of the details, but maintained that a $13.75 million project would have no impact on taxes.
Multiple residents asked why the first phase of the project was not an aquatic centre/ swimming pool, as opposed to the only currently budgeted structure, the replacement of the Ray McDonald Sports Center.
Deputy Mayor Barry Turner responded by saying replacement of the aged and failing arena was essential.
“One of the most important things for me in this project was to make sure that Morinville doesn’t take a step back in our service levels,” he said. Turner went on to explain that with the current arena at the end of its life, the Town would need to replace it to ensure there is an arena in the future.
Mayor Holmes added that an arena typically produces revenue while aquatic centres “lose significant amounts of money.” They both concurred that by building an arena first, the Town may have more money to operate more costly centres later.
Morinville resident Jim O’Brien asked about the potential of tax hikes or a project levy for the construction of a facility larger than the original budget would allow. He asked if there would be a referendum on this potential tax increase, something that Mayor Holmes did not rule out, if the public makes it clear that they want significantly more than the amount budgeted for the project.
Alanna Hnatiw, the leading member of the Morinville/Sturgeon Recreational Facility Citizen Group, had many questions and recommendations regarding the project. She frequently advocated for more work between other municipal partners — something that Mayor Holmes argued was already happening. Hnatiw advocated for “a board, corporation or society to operate the facility” after its construction, rather than it being operated by the Town. The group spokesperson twice questioned the concept of phasing the project, asking, “How many of these facilities have partners coming to the table in later phases that aren’t involved in the first phase?”
In an interview after the event, Hnatiw added she would support a referendum if the Town were not able to secure funding from regional partners but stressed her preferred way of funding the project is regional partnerships. “At the end of the day, I just want to make sure the process is democratic,” Hnatiw said.
An indication that there is some regional support already was present in the presence of Sturgeon County Councillors Jerry Kaup and Patrick Tighe. Both had messages of encouragement for attendees. Councillor Tighe assured the audience that “many, many more details will be coming out [about possible town and the county partnerships] very, very shortly” and that “the County was 100 per cent behind Morinville in the project.
Up until now, Council has been the steering committee for the project. That has changed with two recent motions of Council — one to add a minimum of one member of each of the seven Stakeholder Groups, and an Oct. 27 motion to reduce the number of Councillors on the steering committee from seven to two.
Morinville residents who are interested in having an impact on the project may now apply to become paid members of the Steering Committee for the project. Applications are due by 4:30 p.m Nov. 9. Forms are available from Town Hall during normal business hours, or from the town website — www.morinville.ca.