Town council candidates debate: the rec-centre


Morinville’s new rec-centre is now taking shape just east of town in Sturgeon County.

But as the backhoes dig dirt, so too do they dig into the town’s wallet: the rec-centre will cost some $67.8 million at full build-out and operate at a roughly $2 million a year deficit, suggests the August 2017 Community Recreation Facility Business Case study. Town residents have also said they want the rec-centre’s most expensive element, a pool, built soon.

The Gazette asked Morinville’s seven town council candidates by email how the town should pay for the rec-centre, and whether or not it should fast-track construction of the pool.

Filling the pool (with money)

Candidate Lawrence Giffin said the town’s priority should be to increase its non-residential tax base. While the town was building an arena and field house now, he did not support fast-tracking the next phase of the rec-centre, which includes a proposed $27.5 million pool.

“We simply do not have the tax base to do everything at once,” he said.

Although town residents made a pool one of their top priorities in a recent survey, the cost of building the arena and field house made it tough to afford a pool. Getting federal and provincial grants for it would also be difficult given the size of the federal and provincial deficits. There were also the pool’s operating costs to consider.

“Adding the pool will probably be years down the road,” he said.

Candidate Sarah Hall said the town should go the collaborative route with the rec-centre.

“We need to be looking at all possible sponsorships, partnerships and grants to ease the taxpayers’ burden,” she said.

Fast-tracking the pool was not an option due to its cost, she continued. Morinville should instead look at more viable options, such as the tube-slides of Whitecourt or the Blackfalds outdoor water centre.

“We can create something special and functional for our community,” she said, and draw visitors in the process.

Candidate Stephen Dafoe said he drove a Buick instead of the Lamborghini he’d prefer because he could afford a Buick. Fast-tracking the pool would take “a miracle and hard work,” as the pool would cost $28 million and the town had just $20 million in borrowing capacity. The town would also lose about $700,000 a year to operate the pool, of which Sturgeon County would cover just $175,000 under its current cost-sharing agreement.

While the town could attempt to build a pool in five years once it had paid for the new arena, Dafoe said the town would not be able to do so without significant buy-in from Sturgeon County. While he was less optimistic about that support after four years of working towards it, he said he would continue to lobby for it.

Candidate Neil McDougall said he didn’t know if a majority of residents wanted a pool, or if those that did want it wanted it at all costs, or if the town had determined the size, design and projected costs of the pool.

“I have heard financial figures projected, but don’t know the source of those figures.”

(Estimates on the rec-centre’s costs have generally come from the August 2017 business case study by RC Strategies.)

Candidate Nicole Boutestein said council would have to pursue grants and corporate/municipal sponsorships to offset the cost of Phase One of the rec-centre ($23 million), as doing so would give the town more flexibility to plan projects such as the pool.

“Fast-tracking a pool at this time wouldn’t be responsible, as we still need time to plan for the operational side of it.”

Candidate Scott Richardson said the town should seek corporate and regional sponsorships, particularly naming rights, to pay for the rec-centre. Neighbouring communities that benefit from the rec-centre should be obligated to help pay for it.

“Morinville will need to ensure that the rec-centre is used to its maximum capacity,” he continued, as doing so would net the town revenue from tournaments and other events as well as drive spending at local businesses.

“Ice time is a precious commodity in the capital region,” he said, and the town would have no problem selling it at the rec-centre, which could drastically reduce operational costs.

Candidate Rebecca Balanko questioned if all Morinville residents actually wanted a pool, and noted that pools were a net cost to taxpayers as they did not recover their own costs. She said council should exhaust all funding options, including sponsorship and support from Sturgeon County, before it puts the cost of a pool on town taxpayers.


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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.