OPINION: Ponoka’s push for grant funding may not work

The goal to gain funds for a new field house is admirable but Ponoka may have to play hard ball

Ponoka pushing the province to step up to the grant funding plate is slowly picking up steam but its success is partly dependent on a government that isn’t listening.

The process of Mayor Rick Bonnett speaking to area municipalities to highlight the battle is a good one. Seeking support or gaining letters of support from councils is a great way to advocate.

Unfortunately the message is not coming through. The provincial government has shown zero desire to speak with the town on the matter.

Indeed, questions from Ponoka News to the province on field house funding comes up with vague statements about how Ponoka’s project doesn’t “fit” the funding criteria.

Read More: Ponoka mayor presents to Lacombe council

Read More: Ponoka’s proposed field house estimated at 12.4 million

The province is mum on just about everything on this issue. Ponoka News has yet to receive a response from the province related to if it’s taking any action against the town over its decision to withhold property tax money.

The priority for the province is just not there.

It’s interesting to note that the same grant funding decisions being made by the province are being mirrored by the federal government.

Calgary is receiving a similar property tax exemption, amounting to about $700 million, that Ponoka is looking for, it’s clear the cities are being favoured.

Quebec, which is doing well financially by the way, is receiving $13 billion in equalization payments from the federal government. It’s a decision that Alberta’s Finance Minister, Joe Ceci, has gone on the record to call a deeply flawed system.

Bonnett’s saying the same thing about rural Alberta. But the province doesn’t seem to notice the similarity of the two issues. Neither do the feds.

With the provincial and federal elections slated for 2019 these funding issues may have more to do with voter numbers than needs. Sure, Calgary needs to “update” its infrastructure, but some would argue that Ponoka does as well. As do other rural municipalities.

Results of the 2015 federal elections should be enough to explain the political motivations. Interestingly, equalization payments have been unbalanced for quite a few years regardless of the political party in power.

Believe it or not, there is some merit to the mayor’s argument that a new field house is an economic driver for Ponoka. Before moving to Ponoka — and since — the comments I’ve heard from people outside the community are at times disheartening. And yet, living here, residents are warm, welcoming, giving and innovative.

But for young families, amenities are important. Currently we have groups seeking recreation outside of town to ensure they remain active in the winter, that’s because we don’t have a field house.

Some people feel this multi-plex issue is a new one, but residents have actually been clamouring for a new field house for years. Previous councils and administrations opted to do other projects with taxpayers’ money.

Sure, the arena was expanded upon some years ago, but it was a small addition compared to what residents wanted. Then, the town spent a few hundred thousand on the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre; this was later expanded on and now it’s a couple million spent on that building.

The cost of a new field house was a daunting proposition and council at the time felt it was too expensive for the town to maintain. Currently, Mayor Bonnett is pushing to see the field house become a reality and he’s willing to put it all on the line.

Again, the process of it may be ill-advised but he’s right in one regard, if the funds don’t come now, it may be some time before construction actually happens, and by then it may be too late.



jeff.heyden-kaye@ponokanews.com

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