In their last significant meeting before the election, City of North Vancouver council made their first major funding commitment toward the new Harry Jerome rec centre, authorizing $6.125-million toward the $237-million project.
The money, which is set to be used for detailed design work, some demolition, and temporarily relocating the skatepark, inspired a debate between three of the city’s mayoralty hopefuls, with candidate Kerry Morris warning against what he dubbed a: “foolish expenditure.”
Council’s decision to seek $90 million in bridge financing is “scaring the hell out of every resident,” Morris said.
The financial arrangement involves Darwin development company building an 802-unit development on the current rec centre site and paying the city $183-milllion for a 99 year land lease.
“We’ll all be dead,” Morris said. “In fact, it’s likely our kids will be dead and their kids and their kids will be responsible to pay for this.”
The project, which includes a $32-million contingency fund, is in the city’s long-term interests, responded fellow mayoralty candidate Coun. Rod Clark.
“There are always nervous Nellies with respect to large expenditures,” Clark said. “This is a tiny step along the way but it is an important one.”
In order to lease the land – rather than sell it – bridge financing is required, Clark said. And while it’s a little riskier, the arrangement allows the city to build the new rec centre without raising taxes or raiding reserve funds, Clark said. The city will eventually get the land back or extend the arrangement, ensuring the lease holder will: “put money into the pot for Harry Jerome,” he added.
Council voted 5-1 to authorize the $6.125 million expenditure, with mayoralty candidate Coun. Linda Buchanan casting the lone dissenting vote.
Buchanan asked her colleagues to delay the expenditure until after the election when a new council can: “take a fresh look” at the project.
“I think we need to build smarter here,” she said, suggesting council examine cutting the rec centre budget and diverting as much as $100 million toward: “much needed infrastructure” and user groups not included in the current rec centre plans.
Buchanan appeared to quote Clark, noting council’s role in protecting the taxpayer’s purse, and suggested that a slight deferral would not result in a project delay.
Despite voicing repeated objections about the scope and cost of the new rec centre, outgoing Mayor Darrell Mussatto ultimately voted in favour of the expenditure in a bid to respect the will of council.
“I’ve had that battle and I’ve lost that battle,” he said, noting that further delay could mean even higher costs.
However, Mussatto, in one of his last votes as mayor, reminded his colleagues that major fluctuation in the global economy could result in a six per cent tax hike.
It’s critical to proceed with more detailed design work, said staunch project supporter and Coun. Pam Bookham.
Bookham, who is not seeking re-election, suggested her colleagues may face a “real challenge” explaining the decision to voters in the run-up to the Oct. 20 election.
“It’s too easy to scaremonger with respect to cost,” she said.
Couns. Don Bell and Holly Back also threw their support behind the project, with Back noting that discussions about a new Harry Jerome rec centre dated back 15 years.
“I absolutely do not want to stall this project any further,” she said.
Coun. Craig Keating did not attend the meeting.