Even a visit from a provincial cabinet minister couldn’t help convince members of the Castlegar and District recreation commission to commit to apply for funding to upgrade the city’s community complex.
After a closed-door meeting with Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy and hours of debate Wednesday night, commission members punted the decision into the new year — giving staff just days to prepare for a multimillion-dollar grant application.
“I came to talk to them about what the options are from the provincial government’s perspective,” said Conroy, who’s also the MLA for the area, after the in-camera session.
“I was here to tell them what we can do as a provincial government, what we can do to move forward, what we can do to help.”
Conroy said she didn’t come with bags of money for the project, but could work with the commission to set a direction they want to move in, and to let them know what she can do in Victoria to aid the process.
Debate and delay
Conroy had hardly left the building before the board members got bogged down in details again.
They’re thinking of applying to get money from a $134-million provincial and federal recreation infrastructure fund for B.C. that was announced in October. The deadline for applying is Jan. 23.
Commissioners were supposed to decide whether to take the plunge and apply for up to $13 million to pay for upgrades, but needed staff to clarify whether the application could go ahead with the architectural plans and financial estimates completed to date.
The short answer from staff was yes, and at one point it seemed the go-ahead was coming.
“The three city representatives have a mandate from council to go ahead with the application,” said councillor Dan Rye, who made the motion to apply. “If we don’t try we are doing the citizens a disservice. Fifty-seven per cent of Castlegar and Area J want to see something, so I believe we have to go forward with this.
“We’ve gone over and over this and we’re not getting anywhere,” he added. “Let’s make a decision and put in a grant application, we may have to scale it back, we may end up with nothing, but at least we’ve tried.”
But not everyone agreed.
Rye’s motion called for the commission to apply for the funding, which would cover up to 73 per cent of the estimated $17 million cost, as well as borrow $1 million from the RDCK’s reserves and increase taxes for Castlegar, RDCK Area J, and Area I.
That was a non-starter for Area I representative Andy Davidoff.
“If Castlegar and Area J want to proceed with the $17-million project, you do so without Area I,” he warned. “You are on your own. I will not consent to an increase to taxes that involves Area I.”
Davidoff pointed out there were still many uncertainties to the application as it stood — from how much the politicians were actually committing to spend, to how to get the RDCK board to approve the funding in time, to undefined expenses like ongoing asset management and technical preparation costs, among others.
The project will also push existing tax limits to the maximum.
“The public deserves to know. My ratepayers, your ratepayers need to know what they are facing,” Davidoff said.
He raised enough questions that Rye’s motion was defeated — even Rye himself voted against it.
That prompted a half-hour recess while councillors huddled to work out a new motion.
Second try at motion
When they returned, a new motion was presented and passed. The commission agreed to have staff continue to work on the application. It also gave staff $20,000 to pay for consulting support to complete the application.
The final application, however, would not be approved for submission until the rec commission’s next meeting on Jan. 9.
Only Davidoff voted against the motion.
But staff warned that the deadline was becoming near-impossible to meet.
“The window is tight, guys,” said Castlegar and District rec manager Jim Crockett. “It feels like we are really up against a wall. You push this two weeks and it will be impossible to do this grant.
“It is going to be tough, even now.”
It’s not even clear how a $20,000 fund would help find consulting support for a massive application like this one, or where staff would find an architect or grant writer over the Christmas holidays to give them support.
But Castlegar CAO Chris Barlow said the motion would at least keep things moving forward.
“The intent of this motion is to support the process,” he said.
But with the Christmas shutdown imminent, it’s not clear if there’s going to be much of a process to support at all.