Pincher Creek town council narrowly approved first reading of a $4-million borrowing bylaw to pay for a new curling rink at the Community Recreation Centre at 948 Hyde St. Council then unanimously voted to expand the project in hopes of qualifying for a federal Green and Inclusive Community Buildings grant for up to 60 per cent of the build.
A second grant could deliver up to $1 million in construction costs, while council has already set aside $1.25 million in its 2023 capital budget.
Council greenlit the new curling rink through a contentious 4-3 split Feb. 13, with councillors voting along the same lines when the borrowing bylaw was put to the test Feb. 27.
Coun. Mark Barber tabled the borrowing bylaw at chambers, stressing that grant funding and a hoped-for contribution by the MD of Pincher Creek would offset the rink’s $4-million price tag.
Both councils discussed a potential contribution by the MD at a closed meeting last month, but MD council hasn’t decided anything, Reeve Rick Lemire told Shootin’ the Breeze last Thursday.
“We’re keeping our options open at this point,” he said.
Mayor Don Anderberg and Couns. Gary Cleland and Wayne Oliver supported Barber’s motion, with Couns. David Green, Sahra Nodge and Brian Wright voting against.
Barber and Anderberg cited the town and MD’s joint master recreation plan, which ranked a new curling rink as a third-tier priority in March 2021, based on a survey of around 630 residents.
The curling club and its estimated 150 members hope to donate $200,000 toward the project, plus an ice plant that Barber said was worth $500,000.
Anderberg said council has funded new walking trails and has started to address upgrades to the Memorial Community Centre arena at 867 Main St., which survey respondents listed as first- and second-tier priorities.
The mayor’s comment drew jeers from residents in attendance, to which Anderberg replied, “I believe the survey was accurate and that it was done for a purpose.”
“I would say we’re aggressively pursuing grant money, and all indications are that there would not be a need to borrow the entire [$4 million] amount,” Coun. Oliver said.
Coun. Nodge was the first to speak against the motion, reminding council that the project remains largely unfunded, and warning that residents might have to support a heavy debt load through higher taxes.
Nodge also highlighted the town’s 2022 master infrastructure report by the engineering firm ISL, a planning document that recommends roughly $13 million worth of sidewalk, storm sewer and other upgrades as part of a 10-year capital plan.
Acknowledging strong support for the curling rink among some portions of the community, Nodge insisted that council hasn’t hadn’t done its homework ahead of the project.
“If this goes ahead, which it probably will, and somebody asks, ‘What are the implications for this on taxpayers for the Town of Pincher Creek?’ I don’t have an answer other than my own speculation, and that worries me.”
Noting the town’s acute, chronic housing crunch, Coun. Green reminded council that the community and the municipality have limited resources to bear across a host of civic projects.
“Consequently, a plan for priority spending should be developed in conjunction with the current council’s strategic priorities from 2022 through 2026, which will help eliminate any reactive or misaligned development decisions,” Green said.
Council then unanimously voted to add a bouldering wall and an exhibition space to the Community Recreation Centre. The additions strengthen the town’s chances of receiving the GIBC grant by making the facility more accessible, according to the grant’s funding criteria.
The grant requires a carbon net-zero build, which would add about 30 per cent to projected construction costs, according to Tristan Walker, municipal energy project lead for the town and MD.
Walker said the additions would ultimately save money because the grant would cover up to 60 per cent of total construction costs — if council receives the grant.
The recreation centre currently runs year-round, and project supporters say the new amenities would offer a more robust selection of activities.
The borrowing bylaw must be put to a public hearing and two more readings at chambers, according to the Municipal Government Act.
If passed, opponents would have 30 days to challenge the borrowing bylaw, according to finance director Wendy Catonio.