The initial cost breakdown of the proposed learning centre was a blow to councillors who favour the deal.
Mayor Rick Bonnett is one of its biggest advocates and his disappointment in how the initial proposed deal was negotiated was visible when the benefits versus risks were presented to council. It is clear that administration and council feel differently about the proposal.
From the outset Bonnett made it clear he wishes to see money for the building come out of operations, something that probably concerns administration. Having those operations dollars used up takes money out of operations’ bottom line, affecting what can be done. These are valid concerns but spending can be prioritized appropriately. Maybe administration just likes to have a spending cushion?
The overarching goal for Bonnett, and possibly council, appears to be two fold: create development in town, bringing post-secondary education into the community and removing an eye-sore that has all the makings of the conclusion to a horror movie.
There are many ways the town could spend, or waste, residents’ money and if a better-negotiated deal were to come to the table throwing cash at this project isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There are several examples of unnecessary municipal spending that have occurred over the years. I cite the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre on the northwest side of town as an example total waste. The council and administration of the day decided to take advantage of a grant that would help pay for the overhaul of the aged water treatment facility.
With no plan for the future and no goals in sight, they moved forward and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and added more after the fact, on the building. Have you seen the property lately?
After its completion, administration set aside further dollars to help with the landscaping and interior. If I remember correctly the elevator installed in the building stopped working (it may still be broken) and the rooms, originally intended for the Ponoka Potter’s Guild were not suited for the work the guild handles.
The acoustics were so bad that when council held a few meetings there, it was difficult to hear what they said and next to impossible if it was raining.
What was initially a great idea turned into a bottomless money pit. Not wanting to look foolish, administration at the time appeared willing to keep throwing money into the building, because it would be a shame to admit a mistake. Thankfully council stopped the spending.
Last year, and on a weekend no less, town operations had a small section of roadway re-paved right in front of the town shop — I’m not sure why but the rest of the road seems to have been left out — along with a fire hydrant along that roadway. Was that necessary?
Within every department there is an opportunity at savings, some more obvious than others, and it takes some prioritizing to ensure the best services for residents are being put to the forefront and administration is key to that process.
Bonnett has said quite plainly if there’s a way to ensure the money doesn’t get wasted then that’s a good thing. If the numbers can be improved then the proposed learning centre appears to be one of those opportunities.
The mayor’s frustration at the slow process and apparent lack of negotiations the town made on behalf of residents — although it takes two to tango — was at a point that he placed himself right into the negotiations process. Not only did the deal look like a lost cause, it made those councillors advocating for the learning centre look irresponsible and un-involved.
As the mayor told me quite candidly, if this is on his head — it would be — then he may as well have a say in the process. There’s more than just crunching numbers to this deal, the mayor told me. And he’s right.
He spent much of the last two weeks negotiating with the company.
Since then a new deal has come to the town, council met last night on it, and the numbers are said to be different. Residents will be able to consider this second set of numbers and determine of this new deal is better.