A $9,500 contract to provide public engagement services for White City’s proposed multi-use recreational facility was awarded by town council on Dec. 14 to Delaney Engagement Services.
The future public engagement efforts reviewing the project and examining fundraising possibilities are required per a council resolution passed Oct. 19 prior to plans for the facility moving to Stage 3. This work is expected to take 20 weeks, according to a council briefing note made public by White City administration.
The briefing note states the contractor is to use a process designed by the International Association of Public Participation to inform the public as to why the town feels the facility is needed and how it ties into an overall push to bring a high school to the White City-Emerald Park area. The process is also intended to inform the public on the scope of the plans for the facility, how much those plans will cost, and establish whether ratepayers are willing to foot the bill or desire changes to the proposal.
While four companies were asked to provide quotes to town administration for council’s consideration, Delaney, a firm based in British Columbia, was the only firm to have participated in the process. Council needed to approve the expenditure as it had not been included in the 2020 budget.
This contract only covers the planning stages of the public engagement work and not the engagement efforts themselves. Once the preliminary work starts, a communications plan is to be delivered within six weeks. Council will then have the option to implement this plan through Delaney or another firm.
“The reason we are doing this in two parts is so we can get the planning under our belt without it going to tender,” town clerk Voula Colbow told council.
The planning and engagement work combined is anticipated to cost approximately $75,000. Council will need to approve future engagement expenditures as, to date as neither the 2021 budget nor the facility’s Stage 3 funding has been approved.
Councillor Hal Zorn said during debate on the motion, that one of the forms of public engagement must include telling ratepayers how much MURF will cost them, and how this impacts future property tax bills.
“When we approach the public, are they going to be notified there is a bill they are going to have to swallow?” Zorn asked.
Town manager Ken Kolb responded that community fundraising along with government grants can lower the overall impact of the project on taxpayers.
“It’s about how do we get the community interested in fundraising for this project,” Kolb said.
“But that’s not the direction we gave,” Zorn said. “The direction council had given was, ‘This is how much this is going to cost and does the community have an appetite to pay for this?’”
He added: “We have already done the analysis on fundraising and that wasn’t found to be very lucrative either.”
Councillor Andrew Boschman said the project cost isn’t known yet, and the public engagement will help drive what amenities are included in the multi-use project — a factor which will dictate the overall bill, regardless of how it’s ultimately paid for.
“We have a rough idea based on some conditional designs, but that’s not finalized,” Boschman said. “We don’t know what the implications will be and we will need to find that out then work backwards.”
The conversation was one of the first public discussions council has held regarding the facility since at least September as, prior to the election, council had held several closed-door discussions about the project. Deputy Mayor Rebecca Otitoju made note of that in her comments to council.
“We voted to do the public engagement first, because prior to this, all of our meetings on this had been in camera,” she said. “The community did not know what was going on. They knew about the project and knew there was a plan to do something and there was some consultation with stakeholders such as the library, who could help make this project a success. The community does know what our intentions are, but they don’t know the details.”
While Coun. Scott Moskal said he was not present for discussions in October, he added his understanding of the public engagement is, “to build a plan and take it to the ratepayers and show them this is the magnitude of the numbers and these are the possible ways to fund it.”
“It’s not to be done in a fashion that sugar-coats this in any way,” Moskal said. “We want true and honest feedback from residents. We have received information to this point on what the likely magnitude is, but ... we need to know what people are willing to sign up for.”
Council then voted to accept the contract and move ahead with the engagement work.
Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum