Thursday, March 19, 2015
Belleville City Council Budget Discussions....
Renovations to Yardmen Arena, estimated at $21 million, have been given the stamp of approval by city council.
During a full day of capital budget discussions, council ended Tuesday by approving, in principle, the much-discussed upgrades to the Cannifton Road complex. The single largest expenditure in the $72-million capital budget, the item received a little more than 30 minutes of discussion.
The majority of that came in the form of a dissenting opionion from Coun. Taso Christopher who enthusiastically explained he would not be supporting the renovations and their $21-million price tag. Christopher immediately moved to have the item deleted from the capital budget.
"The thing is, at the end of the day, it's going to be tax dollars," Christopher said. "There are just too many 'what-ifs.'"
Coun. Egerton Boyce reminded Christopher if council leaves the item in the budget, it does not necessarily mean the project will go ahead. He said further information will be received by council and if councillors are not happy with what comes back, council can back out of the planned renovations.
Under the motion, the city could spend $21 million to add an extra 1,000 seats in a "horseshoe bowl" configuration at the arena's north end. The proposed renovations will also create four new permanent concession areas, new public washrooms, a wider concourse and renovations to the existing group suites at the south end of the rink creating a bar and restaurant area.
Christopher argued the city has too many infrastructure needs and the money would be better spent in that area. The Yardmen renovations, he said, are a 'want' item and not a 'need.'
Christopher used theatrical props last budget to underscore his desire to have needed items take precedence over wanted budget issues.
He said the burden of such expenditures would fall on future taxpayers to absorb.
"There are kids that haven't even been born yet and we're going to mortgage them."
The only other voice of opposition to the expenditure was Coun. Tom Lafferty. He also argued there are too many unknowns about the project to allow him to support it.
"If we don't have the information to move forward on this then we shouldn't," he said, noting if council approved the project it would, undoubtedly, end up being done. "These things just move through osmosis."
Coun. Bob Dolan said he has heard for too many years that young people leave Belleville because there is nothing here for them. By moving ahead with the renovations at the arena, it represents a major centre for attractions that may help make Belleville a destination rather than an exit point.
Coun. Pat Culhane agreed and said the city could simply approve the project and learn more before moving ahead with a final decision to launch the project.
"I'm not prepared to shelve it based on fear," she said.
In a recorded vote, only Lafferty and Christopher voted against the expenditure.
Council also approved creating a steering committee and community advisory group to investigate what can be done with the Yardmen Arena in its new form. Chief administrative officer Stephen Hyndman explained to council there is more to the Yardmen than just the Belleville Bulls and community input into potential uses for the site and what may be altered in the renovations is necessary.
Coun. Jackie Denyes said she is concerned the city could move ahead with the renovations with no clear idea how long the Bulls hope to remain in Belleville.
Mayor Neil Ellis said he could not go into details on how negotiations with the Bulls have been proceeding, but assured council the team's owner, Gord Simmonds, has made it clear to Ellis the team wants to remain in the community.
"Mr. Simmonds wants to keep the team here," Ellis said. "He doesn't want to move the team. He wants to stay here."
Council reconvenes at city hall for its budget session Thursday.
From Intelligencer Files...
January 28, 2009 Brice McVicar