“I feel that the project is sucking the life out of us a community at this point,” is the way Minden Hills Councillor Pam Sayne put it during a council meeting last week.
Certainly, what became very clear at last week’s meeting is that the arena project, or, specifically, the fundraising surrounding it, is sucking up far too much municipal staff time.
Regular readers of this publication will be familiar with the project, a $13-million one that includes a new, state-of-the-art arena with NHL-sized rink, six change rooms, new staff office space, a multipurpose gym with elevated walking track, and upgrades to the existing community centre space.
Early in the process, Mayor Brent Devolin said he believed a fundraising campaign to support the project could raise as much as $1 million, and last month, the fundraising working group that has been struck officially set a goal of $750,000. That money is supposed to help offset project costs, as well as pay for “value-added items” at the new facility. That committee is supposed to be community-driven, but with the resignation of members of the public from its ranks just months after it was struck, senior members of the township’s staff have been recruited to help out, and there are now four members of senior staff involved with the committee, although non-voting, outnumbering what will be three remaining members of the public. Devolin is also on the committee, currently serving as its chair.
Councillor Bob Carter expressed his strong opposition to the situation last week, pointing out it is customary for township advisory committees to have one staffer as a resource person, while this group, which was supposed to be community-driven, had four. What’s more, Carter, who’s prone to making salient points, said the township’s housing task force, on which he sits, would now be lacking the staff member that had been part of it, as she redirects her attention to fundraising for the arena.
That a recreation project should be prioritized in any way over the municipality’s dire lack of affordable housing is audacious. It is unacceptable that the paid time of senior staff is being dedicated to what is supposed to be a fundraising committee consisting of community members. Minutes from an Oct. 22 meeting of the group indicated that two members of senior staff would be spending time at the office working on fundraising initiatives.
It’s important to recall there are many Minden Hills residents who strongly disapprove of the project and are very unhappy their tax dollars will be paying for it during the coming decades. Presumably, those same residents will not be thrilled to know more of their tax money is being spent on staff time dedicated to fundraising for the project.
Carter called these hidden costs of the project, and Sayne requested that separate reports showing the associated staff costs be drawn up. Seems like a good and transparent idea.
It was clear the majority of council takes issue with the situation, and, following a planned open house to show progress on the facility in late November, councillors indicated the situation is to be corrected.
Back in the throes of the project’s approval, a number of residents and businesses expressed their support for it. Where are they now? It’s time for them to step up and join the fundraising group.