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City of Prince Albert increases debt limit for recreation centre project

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The province has approved the City of Prince Albert’s application to increase its debt borrowing limit.

“We did get notified and it was approved by the governing body,” said Prince Albert Ward Three City Councillor Tony Head.

The City of Prince Albert submitted a Debt Limit Application request to the Saskatchewan Municipal Board Local Government Committee (LGC) this fall to increase its borrowing limits. It was reviewed and approved on November 7 to increase its debt capacity by $75 million to a maximum of $120 million.

The city made the application due to rising costs associated with a new aquatics and arena project, says Head.

“There has been some good feedback from residents. I know there’s been a handful of people who are quite upset about moving forward with the project,” said Head.

The Arenas and Aquatics Recreation Facility was brought forward from public consultation and was proposed to replace two aging rinks, the Kinsmen Arena and Dave Stuart Arenas, said Head

“The Frank Dunn Pool is well over 50 years old. And that’s the only aquatics facility operating,” he said.

“The money is invested already and as you can see there’s movement and construction happening right now so it feels like there is no turning back at this point.”

The city estimated the cost of the Arenas and Aquatic Recreation Facility project at $60 million dollars in 2019, but cost estimates have since increased by 35 percent, according to the city’s website.

Bid prices received in the pre-tender process estimate the total budget for the project at $113.8 million, over $60 million dollars more than initial estimates.

The city received $44 million dollars in government grant funding in 2019 for the project with the federal government contributing $24 million through the Canada Infrastructure Program, the provincial government $19.9 million, and the city responsible for the remainder of the costs.

“The revised funding plan continues to include no increase in property taxes to fund the new facility,” said the Prince Albert city website.

The city says they have instead increased the city borrowing and directed the annual financing payments through the Civic Facilities Reserve. The website also says they plan to target property tax revenue from the businesses in the Yard Development to pay for the project.

The project committee also reduced the cost of the construction plans by modifying the non-functional design elements in June.

PABRAG 

The Prince Albert Business and Residents Advocacy Group Inc. (PABRAG) has organized a petition to allow businesses and citizens to speak out against the city taking on more debt, says PABRAG founder and former city councillor Evert Botha.

“Current councillors have objected to the increases in costs but they are bulldozing ahead,” Botha said.

“Whatever shortfall is going to be carried by the taxpayer, an eight per cent levy in the area will never cover the shortfalls.”

Botha has calculated the additional borrowing of $30 million dollars and $54 million. He says at $30 million the levy works out to $64 per year, per dwelling or $25 per resident.

“Because there is no fundraising plan or feasibility study that’s been presented, the city may need to borrow $54 million. Each dwelling or household in the city would be responsible for $172 per year or $65 per resident for 35 years, the length of time that the city facility reserves have been committed,” said Botha.

PABRAG has launched a citizens' petition in accordance with the Cities Act Section 106 to hold a referendum on the city’s borrowing for the project and the $120,000,000 increase in the city’s debt limit.

The group is also gathering signatures to petition the province to conduct a Forensic Financial Audit of the city’s debt and to rescind Motion 2015 passed in June, to increase the city’s debt.

PABRAG has set up locations in the Gateway Mall and in Cornerstone shopping district, 925 - 801 15th Street East to gather signatures.

According to direction from the province, the signatures have to be gathered in person and witnessed.

Botha is also concerned about a proposed arena for the community’s WHL team featured on the billboard outside the Yard District.

He says it seems out of reach given the current interest rates, city debt load, and the need for the community to fundraise to pay for the furnishing needs to complete the Victoria Hospital expansion.

The City of Prince Albert’s Mayor Greg Dionne declined to comment on PABRAG activity.

“I’m a positive person and I’m trying to deliver a good budget to the city so I have no time for side distractions,” said Dionne.

Dionne says no recreation services were cut in the 2023 budget deliberation and the city’s facilities are operating at the same level or have been enhanced in comparison to the year prior.

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