A petition circulating in Pincher Creek could upset council’s plan to build a new curling rink, according to an administration report in council’s March 27 agenda.
The petition, launched by town resident Elizabeth Dolman on March 17, aims to block the passage of a borrowing bylaw for a multi-million-dollar construction loan, pending a referendum on the loan, Dolman told Shootin’ the Breeze.
“We don’t have enough information [about the curling rink project],” Dolman said, questioning the potential tax implications and calling for more attention to other civic priorities, namely housing.
“Curling is a wonderful thing, … but people can’t move here for jobs because there’s no place to live. The town’s known this for at least 20 years, and they’ve made plans here and there. But they haven’t done anything yet,” she continued.
The petition is the latest development in a long-running and hotly contentious debate about whether or not to build a new rink and where to build it.
Whatever might be said of the project, the town’s existing curling rink at 837 Main St. is at the end of its working life, according to structural studies dating back at least to 2008. The rink is run by the Pincher Creek Curling Club, at the club’s expense. The club has around 150 members, roughly evenly split between the town and MD of Pincher Creek, according to outgoing president Glenda Kettles.
Council on Feb. 13 narrowly passed a resolution to build a new rink at the Community Recreation Centre at 942 Hyde St., to be renamed the CRC and Events Centre if the build goes ahead. The borrowing bylaw, still before council, was given the first of three readings at chambers on Feb. 27.
Second and third readings are not listed on council’s March 27 agenda.
Pincher Creek holds approximately $3.5 million in debt as of the new year — roughly $1.85 million for the town’s early learning centres and around $1.65 million for Pincher Creek RCMP’s current headquarters at 1369 Hunter St., according to finance director Wendy Catonio.
That burden represents just under one quarter of the town’s approximately $15 million allowable debt limit, which the Municipal Government Act caps at 150 per cent of a municipality’s most recent annual revenue. For context, Catonio said the town’s current debt load is unremarkable compared to regional municipalities.
If passed, the borrowing bylaw would authorize council to take out a loan for up to $4 million in estimated construction costs for the curling rink build. The town would then be obligated to pay down whatever amount it draws on the loan.
The town has meanwhile applied for a federal grant that could cover up to 60 per cent of the build. Tristan Walker, the town and neighbouring MD’s energy project lead, said he hoped for a decision by the grant funder sometime this summer.
Town council in 2017 committed $1.25 million to match the curling club’s hoped-for grant through the province’s Community Facility Enhancement Program. The CFEP grant didn’t come through, and council has included the $1.25 million commitment in subsequent budgets.
The $1.25 million was always intended to be financed through a loan rather than the town’s capital reserves, Catonio explained.
Coun. Mark Barber, a longtime supporter of the build, told council last month that the curling club would contribute $200,000 through fundraising efforts, adding that the club would donate its ice plant, which Barber said was worth $500,000.
Barber also said the MD would probably kick in some money. Reeve Rick Lemire later told the Breeze that MD council discussed that possibility in a joint session with town council, but the MD hasn’t made any financial commitments.
In order to be successful, Dolman’s petition would have to satisfy a number of conditions listed in the MGA.
Petitions to council need signatures from 10 per cent of municipal residents, which amounts to roughly 360 people in Pincher Creek, according to the 2021 census.
The petition would have to come to Angie Lucas, the town’s new chief administrative officer, no later than March 30. Lucas would then have 45 days to decide if the petition satisfies the Act’s requirements.
If the petition holds up, council would have to either scrap the curling rink build or put the borrowing bylaw to a town referendum. If the petition fails, council could pass the borrowing bylaw and move ahead with the project, according to Lucas’s latest report to council.
Lucas has recommended that council receive for information an explainer at chambers Monday evening about the petition process.
Few of the project’s vital details have been made public as of Friday afternoon, including a detailed cost estimate, according to an FAQ page on the town’s website.
The curling club owns the existing rink, while the town owns the land on which it sits. There is no plan for what happens at the old curling rink after the building comes down, nor information about the financial implications for the town and tax implications for residents, the FAQ page explains.
The curling club did not respond to a request for an interview before Shootin’ the Breeze published this story online on Friday afternoon.
Roughly 170 people had signed Dolman’s petition to that point. Dolman has said she will continue to collect signatures at Ranchland Mall over the weekend.
Kettles said Friday that the curling club has so far raised around $100,000 toward the new rink.