By Alison Taylor
After slashing the budget by $3 million, council gave its stamp of approval to the multi-million dollar renovations and expansion of municipal hall.
The total cost to taxpayers is now $5.7 million.
Mayor Ken Melamed, while he appreciates the level of concern about the large expenditure of municipal funds, is convinced the move will be fiscally responsible.
“I appreciate the comments around the council table concerned about the expenditure of municipal funds,” he said. “Everyone’s concerned about it. We are very concerned about it, especially because there’s this perception out there in the community and in general in the real world, that local governments aren’t responsible with their funds.
“It is not our intention to be spending money rashly and unwisely.”
Only one month ago staff proposed an $8.7 million municipal hall expansion, which failed at the council table.
Monday’s decision, even with the revised budget, was not unanimous but it brought Councillors Bob Lorriman and Gordon McKeever on board and gave council a majority when it came to the vote.
Lorriman was fastidious, however, in driving home the point that the $5.7 million budget, which was approved in the 2006 Five Year Financial Plan, must stick.
“I want to make sure that we don’t go beyond this budget,” he said, as he looked to staff for assurances that the scope and scale of the project would change if they ran into additional costs.
He used the library project to highlight his concerns.
The library budget was $7 million when approved in 2004. By 2005 council of the day approved an additional $1.2 million to offset rising construction costs.
Three months into its term, this new council approved almost $1.5 million, bringing the total library budget to $9.7 million.
Mayor Ken Melamed pointed to the 23 per cent contingency fund in the budget, which should provide some level of comfort to council.
He also worried that setting a strict $5.7 million budget could mean the project lies incomplete if unexpected circumstances arise. He used the example of installing the elevator without the cables.
Staff explained the project would be done in phases — first the expansion into the parking lot, followed by the interior renovations to the existing building and rounded off with the exterior upgrades.
Lorriman said he was encouraged to hear about the phasing, which should allow for reviews of the budget throughout the process.
Still, two councillors remained unconvinced of the need for more than 6,500 square feet of additional space on the east end of the building.
That addition will bring new council chambers, which can morph into an Emergency Operations Centre in the event of a major catastrophe in the resort. It will also provide more offices and archival space.
“This is more about an expansion for council,” said Councillor Tim Wake, who believes they can meet most of their objectives of upgrading the hall and providing a healthier work atmosphere within the existing footprint of the building. The budget then could be halved.
“That’s where I think we should be starting,” he said. “I think we should be sticking with the core of the building.”
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler also questioned the need for new council chambers.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a rookie councillor, he said, but he doesn’t object to holding council meetings in Millennium Place. Moreover, the municipality is guaranteeing the $3 million mortgage on Millennium Place, which is coming up for renewal in April 2007. It also provides a bulk operating grant every year and funds the monthly interest payment to the tune of $10,000 per month.
Both councilors, however, admitted they did not have an alternative solution for an Emergency Operations Centre.
All councillors, whether they supported the $5.7 million project or not, agreed on the need to revamp the hall, improve accessibility, provide a healthier work atmosphere and find more space for staff.
The council debate, however, highlighted a lingering hangover from the library.
In response to a question about the library cost overruns after the council meeting, Melamed quickly highlighted the Emerald sewer project, which came in under budget. Those are the success stories that are rarely remembered.
“It’s unfortunate what’s happened with the library,” he said, after council had adjourned. “We committed to do it in I believe the worst construction time, the worst fundraising time of the last 25 years.”
Melamed said it was encouraging to hear from staff the construction craze of the last four years is slowing down as they embark on this new project.