Ponoka town council begrudgingly accepted its fate by approving the drawing down of reserves to pay for the interior work on the Civic Centre to the tune over $1.7 million.
The motion passed at the Jan. 22 meeting sees the town pay the full $2.165 million for the improvements — paint, drywall, flooring, finishes, etc — to enable town administration and the library to occupy the building. To note, Coun. Carla Prediger was absent from the meeting.
This was available due to the town having about $4.9 million in unrestricted reserves as of the end of 2018. It was also urgent that the funding be found and approved, as the project was completed last year and will be part of the fiscal year-end audit.
Figuring out what to do became an issue back in October, during the town’s budget deliberations, when administration was informed by Municipal Affairs that the project wasn’t eligible under the capital funding portion of the province’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI). The reason was the building was owned by a private company and not the municipality or non-profit or provincial entity such as regional commission or school division.
Sandra Lund, general manager of corporate services, told council that when the application was made as part of the 2018 budget it was thought it would be approved, just as the similar move was in 2015. However, when the town’s amended funding request that was made in August returned as rejected, a plan to find the money began. It was that plan that council debated during budget talks.
“Obviously again, the government is sticking their nose in and telling us where we can spend our money. But yet, will not continue to go forward with any granting that they are obligated to do,” Mayor Rick Bonnett voiced in frustration, clearly speaking to not getting funding for a fieldhouse along with the province’s Jan. 10 letter stating no more provincial grants will be handed to Ponoka until it reverses its motion to withhold the education portion of property taxes.
“Quite frankly, it pisses me off that they continue to keep putting their nose into town affairs without actually knowing what is going on.”
Though, Bonnett added there is nothing that can done since the province sets the MSI rules.
Coun. Teri Underhill was the only other one to comment, stating it doesn’t feel good having to do this when there was a plan in place well before the work was even due to start.
“We understood this was the way the plan could go forward and now, once again, the provincial government is saying ‘ahhh wait, there’s this little clause we didn’t tell you about and too bad, so sad. The frustration with the provincial government is just large at the moment.”
Underhill added any decision made will be hard, simply because council will get “slapped in the public eye” regardless, without knowing what the public thinks.
“I know that there are going to be people who are going to go on Facebook or whatever and talk about how much we are ruining this town,” she stated.
“But, we are trying and I’m tired of making these decisions and then people saying ‘you did this wrong.’”
The bulk of the funding — just under $1.5 million — will come from the town’s unrestricted capital reserves with the rest coming from operational reserves with the biggest hit felt by the town’s electrical unit.
That department will see the loss of almost $820,000 in combined capital and operational reserves, while the next largest is the building development capital reserve at a little more than $400,000 and the $400,000 combined from general government reserves.
In addition to the approval, council directed administration to draw up a preliminary report on the town possibly purchasing the Civic Centre from Landrex.
*The original story has been amended.