With the introduction of a new parcel tax to help pay for storm water management, some have raised questions about how the City of Castlegar can afford a shiny new park if there isn’t enough money to pay for essential infrastructure. The answer is that ultimately the City is only shouldering a small percentage of the capital cost of the park.
Phase 1 of the Millennium Park project began in 2013, centering around the development of the Millennium Ponds. The project cost the City a total of $1,888,700, but only three per cent or $63,700 of that was paid for using the City’s general funds. The majority — 76 per cent or $1,425,000 — was paid for by borrowing from the City’s reserve funds, which is being paid back using revenue from the Host Local Government Payments that Chances Casino pays to the City each year. That revenue amounted to $426,000 in 2013/2014 and $440,000 in 2014/2015. The remainder of Phase 1 — 21 per cent or $400,000 — was paid for with a provincial grant.
Having said that, it’s worth noting that the City can use the Host Local Government revenue “for any purpose within their legal authority,” according to the ministry of finance’s website.
The cost for Phase 2, which broke ground on May 6, is estimated at $750,000. The project includes the expansion of the parking lot, the development of volleyball courts, pickle ball and tennis courts, and an off-leash dog park. The project also includes developments outside Millennium: four pickle ball courts at the Castlegar Community Complex and a basketball and ball hockey multi-use court at Zinio Park.
City general funds will pay for 23 per cent of the total cost — $175,000 — while the majority of the cost — 60 per cent or $450,000 — will be paid for by the Columbia Basin Trust. The remainder — 17 per cent or $125,000 — will be paid for by the Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas I and J.
Between the two projects 9 per cent of the costs will be paid for using the City’s general revenues, which is a relatively small portion for the City to have to pay for such a major project.
Of course there have been costs outside the two major phases of the Millennium Park project as well. A review of the City’s budgets from 2013 to 2016 (2016 amounts are obviously budgeted and not final) shows that the City expects to have spent $2,996,244 on Millennium by the end of the year — with $850,000 budgeted for 2016 and $2,146,244 already spent. That includes the $2,638,700 for both phases and $133,040 for the Millennium Ponds service contract, among other expenses. The 2016 budget also outlines another $90,000 in park maintenance expenses that were not prioritized this year.
Asked why city council decided to spend money on Millennium Park, rather than using those same funds to upgrade essential infrastructure, Mayor Lawrence Chernoff replied, “City council annually allocates its budget among many priorities. These priorities follow the City’s Strategic Plan’ s Three Pillars of Infrastructure, Economic Development and Community Wellness. Under Infrastructure, for example, council has allocated funding for water system improvements including water main looping and water main replacements, major Columbia Ave. road and infrastructure improvements and storm sewer system improvements. Under the City’s Strategic Plan’s Community Wellness pillar, council has allocated funding to complete the planned Millennium Park improvements.”
“In 2016, the City has allocated $175,000 to enable receiving grants of $450,000 from Columbia Basin Trust and an additional $125,000 from the regional district. This represents a great partnership to fulfill one of council’s Strategic Plan’s main priorities,” he continued. “So, it is not a case of funding one area to the exclusion of other necessary components of our community’s future development. It is a case of city council funding infrastructure improvements and funding community recreation projects and funding other projects for economic development.”
At the end of the day, the expense has to be weighed against the benefit of the park to the community. While some Castlegar residents may feel that a $150 parcel tax outweighs their enjoyment of the park, others will feel differently.