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Kervin’s Corner: Port Hardy Mayor and Council dives in head first on Multiplex project approval

Naturally as the Port Hardy multiplex timeline continues on, so too does the budget grow.

All but one Port Hardy councillor gave the go ahead for the multiplex project, despite continually rising costs. Even when met with a tad bit of opposition calling for more community consultation, Mayor and Council decided to move on with it anyway.

Information provided on the District of Port Hardy’s website states that the cost of building a new centre and pool was initially estimated around $10.5 million. Then in 2016, it had projections of roughly $12 million in total costs. After community consultation in Fall 2017, the cost was shy of $14 million. It’s understandable that big projects like this may have unexpected costs. Naturally as the project timeline continues on, so too does the budget grow.

What it ends up coming out to is simple. Chief Administrative Officer Allison McCarrick points out that “yes we would have to borrow $5,000,000 from the district and look for ways of paying that back”. Mind you, the 2017 assent vote on the multiplex was specifically to borrow up to $6 million for the project.

The only councillor in favor of deferring the project, Dennis Dugas, seemed to show calm, rational decision-making on the matter, stating that Mayor and Council should “… be a little bit more patient,” going on to say, “we don’t have to make a decision today whether we move ahead or not”. He is a councillor with some sense to stay the course and wait for funding to come through – rather than jumping right in and putting the financial onus on Port Hardy residents to bear.

Other councillors may disagree, albeit all the rest of Mayor and Council, and some of them may say this: “I am optimistic that the provincial government will come on board and that they will find some year-end money that will go into this phase one”. But unfortunately optimism doesn’t necessarily mean we will meet the bottom line. In fact, with federal and municipal elections coming up soon, it’ll be that much more difficult to secure funding.

According to BC Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Silena Robinson’s January 9, 2018 letter to Mayor and Council, the “application is currently under technical review and … can expect a response some time in the New Year.” Well, the new BC NDP 2018 budget was announced already and it’s been four months since that letter.

Afterall, why would BC government commit to a project that may not even continue especially if there is a sudden turnover in Mayor and Council seats during our next election? It may not happen necessarily – it may not happen at all in fact – but these are the sorts of things that the province may consider when looking at capital project funding.

So isn’t it imprudent to greenlight a project that hasn’t nearly enough funding to even consider breaking the ground yet, especially if the provincial government shows no commitment to partnering/funding the project?

And yes, Dugas is right – there is great concern for resident taxpayers and small businesses. Suffice to say, they are the ones taking the brunt of the costs for the next who-knows-how-long.

In a 2018-2022 financial plan presentation to Mayor and Council on January 23, 2018, it is estimated that revenue from property taxes in the District will jump from $3,064,658 to $3,257,305 by 2019. By 2022 municipal property taxes will near $3,561,988. In the span of four years your residential and business taxes will increase by 16.23 percent.

In the same report, the immediate “[i]mpact on property taxes total $4.025% or $82.00 on average family home[s]” for 2018. Why does it matter, especially if the cost seems negligible? Because it’s going to continue to increase until 2022 or when the project’s loans are paid off.

It’s easy to get confused by all the numbers thrown around continuously in media, by residents, or from councillors. When you look it at – using the most recent estimated project costs and our District’s 2018-2022 financial plan – it’s clear what’s happening.

This begs the question – is a 16.23 percent increase in property taxes over time worth a new pool? That’s for Port Hardy residents to decide.

Anyway, with what would be a monumental – dare I say once in a lifetime community project – for our small, rural town comes another question – when all is said and done, what should we name the multiplex? (Or rather, who should we name it after?) Do we take it to the community to vote?

In my internship at the municipal hall back in 2013, I had the great honor of meeting and getting to know then-Mayor Bev Parnham – listening intently to her knowledge, over the span of three Summer months, of what being a leader is like and what making tough decisions mean. In those brief conversations I learned there are so many sides to a single issue – difficult issues like the multiplex for instance. But knowing that the multiplex is already underway regardless, there is a unique opportunity. That said, I’d like to nudge Mayor and Council toward commemorating Bev Parnham.