Barry’s Bay – Mayor Kim Love and Madawaska Valley Township councillors all tried to speak with oratorical splendor last Thursday as they once again inched closer to taking out a $1.4 million loan needed to retrofit the 40-year old Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre.
All spoke in hopes of bringing its artificial ice plant up to snuff in time for the Ontario Winter Games promised to Renfrew County in 2022. Curiously, no one spoke of the over half-million dollar operating loss the PJYCC is expected to incur during the past year.
Councillor David Shulist was the first to let loose with what started out as an homage to President John F. Kennedy. Coun. Shulist suggested senior citizens would not quibble with the council’s impending financial decision because, as he saw it, they view such public debt in 1960 inaugural terms.
“It is not what the township can do for us,” Coun. Shulist said, attributing his words to local seniors, “but what we could do for our municipality.”
Councillor Mark Willmer was next to weigh in.
“From talking to people in the street, I know there are a lot of people keen on us going ahead and getting the arena back up and into good shape,” he shared.
He went on the say there were also “a lot of people, similar to me, who don’t use it – I rarely use the arena – but I recognize the importance of it. It’s one of those facilities like the library, like the hospital; it’s part of the framework of a small community. And when you lose something like this, you lose a big portion of your community.”
Councillor Ernie Peplinski was next up. Responding to more than 24 letters from local ratepayers that were presented at the council meeting, he said, “I must say after reading all the letters… I am really encouraged by this.”
He then suggested the letter-writing public may hold the key to minimizing the need for taking out that $1.4 million loan.
“I think if we can engage the community, have them participate and have some fundraising, then what we’re not looking at is borrowing the full amount, which will have major significance down the road.”
The mayor loved the new idea.
“We would be very pleased to see our community step up and want to fund-raise to assist to offset some of this cost; that is a commitment to have from the community, but the community needs to recognize that council and staff can’t do that (i.e. fundraise) for this community,” she said. “It’s the community that needs to do it.”
Councillor Carl Bromwich then pointed out the arena resurfacing project had been publicly discussed for the past eight years, with numerous reports made public, including discussions about the possibility of having to close the arena for good.
“One of the points that people are trying to make is that we’re sinking money into a black hole here that doesn’t pay any money back; that it’s a no-return-on-investment,” he said. “It has to be quite clearly stated here that recreation is not a money-making situation. Recreation is a service.
“You’re not going to make money” he said, before citing an Ontario government website he claimed that once stated three years ago that, “Every dollar spent on recreation and tourism, invested by a township, generates $4.50 from tourists as they come into our town, spend time and invest in our town services that we provide. So, it is a no-brainer here!”
Mayor Love chimed in once more, saying, “the arena is a piece of infrastructure; it’s no different than Paugh Lake Road or any other building that the municipality has; it’s a piece of infrastructure and we need to ensure that we are looking after our infrastructure… But it is, as you say, very unlikely that it is ever going to be making money.
“Council and municipal staff don’t have the capacity to spend the energy, effort and the investment in attempting to do large events to hopefully, eventually down the road make significant money at the arena or even in this municipality. That takes a resource, human and financial, that we simply do not have. And as a small municipality we aren’t prepared to risk.
“So, we have to understand that our arena is going to cost money; it is very unlikely that it is ever going to break even. So be it! It’s a piece of infrastructure that provides great service to our community. If it was a money-making proposition, private enterprise would be involved in providing arena services because they could – wait for it – make money,” the mayor said.
“So, public services like recreation facilities, like our arena, is something that government is here to provide to the community to better the community. And that needs to be recognized by this community.
“Again, I will call out to the community that if you have great concern about the issue that this council is going to have to make a decision about how to fund this project, come together, form committees and do some fund-raising to help offset that cost.”
And so, last Thursday morning, after all the eloquent words, the mayor and council encouraged its staff to continue assembling tendering documents for the $1.4. million ice-resurfacing project and, if necessary, call a special council meeting once those tendering documents have been properly assembled, and that will allow them to proceed to spend money they do not have.
In last year’s MV Township budget presentation, Treasurer Amanda Hudder projected the PJYCC would cost $663,460 to operate throughout 2020. It was expected to earn $124,300 during the same 12 months, leaving a whopping $539,160 operating loss township taxpayers, it must be assumed, will have to accept as a public service to themselves.
Barry Conway, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader