Rhino's Ramblings - A Million Dollar Forgiveness
By Robert Thomas - Opinion/Commentary
It could be a whimper or it could be a major bang as Monday evening’s regular meeting of Moose Jaw City Council is set to reveal one of the not so hidden secrets when it comes to the Downtown Facility and Field House (DFFH) or back many years ago when it was getting started the Multiplex.
And yes it is a biggie when it comes to that debate. A debate that although settled long ago via referendum and the courts still grinds hard in many people’s minds. It is one of the great dividers still slowly healing in the city. One very likely to need a few more sutures after Monday evening.
And just for the record I want people to know, yes I did vote YES in the final and last referendum to build the facility. Although I have after that made my own personal opinion known about the amount of subsidy granted to that facility. I said somethng and wrote a letter or two about it because the massive amount of funds being transferred to it in no way was what I was told in order to secure my vote.
With that said the Multiplex is here and much of what drove it to its fruition was based upon community support. A large part of the community support was to be in the form of donations from individuals, groups and businesses. Millions of dollars pledged but at the same time now close to a million dollars missing as many pledges have been officially written off.
In their attack on the project the NO Side specifically mentioned anyone could make a pledge and in the end simply walk away from it without any reprecussions except to the taxpayers. It was an argument actively attacked as nonsense by the YES Side. They went so far to say it was simply fear mongering at its finest.
Well it now appears on Monday evening we are going to be officially told the NO side was correct on this and yes close to 10 percent of the original pledges are now the responsibility of the taxpayer.
The only group making a pledge who can be held for it are the presently cash rich Moose Jaw Warriors and it is unlikely we will be seeing any sort of request from relief by that organization.
One of the biggest things which kept on recurring over the years when it did come to these pledges was how much it was costing the City to finance them. The City had an account where they tracked the amount received versus the amount spent to actually finance these pledges. It was in many detractors minds a total waste of money and in the end many questioned just how much would in fact end up non-collectible.
And wasn’t the City “forced into” some very expensive upgrades when the Multiplex Buiilders said the remaining contingency fund was actually “their” money? Well this report just shows the pledges and donations did not live up to their full stated value. I am sort of wondering how then Mayor Deb Higgins would have responded when the big demand came through to install an escalator because the City was making off with the pledges totalling about the same amount now written off.
The big question out there on this one has to be why would Councillor Brian Swanson ask these questions? Why would these answers be so important at this time and juncture?
Well the answer is a multi-faceted one. We also need to remember Councillor Swanson sat on the two of the board’s whose finances are now coming public on Monday evening,
First off it does play to his base supporters and acknowledges their greatest fears are in fact true.
The Multiplex is in fact eating at the finances of the City in ways which were dismissed as unrealistic and just being Negative Nellies by proponents of the YES side.
Secondly one needs to ask one’s self is there something coming up in the background which could very well rely upon the same funding model? Is there something waiting in the wings being discussed in those closed door planning sessions we do not know about yet? If there is, what is it?
The future pledge model which was not just used for the DFFH but also the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre as well. A Centre which has had its financial problems over the past couple of years mired in a much rumoured unauthorized write-down of over $30,000 in outstanding debt by a former manager without the board’s knowledge. Something unceremoniously dumped on the present board’s lap who had nothing to do with it but are responsible to clean up the mess/
A funding model which I would bet the missing million dollars in the Multiplex pledges someone in the background is eyeing for yet another major Downtown addition - whether it be right now or in the future is yet to be determined.
One of the big things we need to remember is when the pledge argument was made the NO Side made the rebuttal argument they were non-enforceable pledges and the City should have the money in hand before proceeding.
Now if there is in fact another project out there looking at this funding model - it would not surprise me if there was - could the argument now be made take a look at the Multiplex and what was promised there and not delivered? Shouldn’t the cash for donations be in hand - as some communities have done - before the first scoop of earth is turned with a gold spraypainted shovel?
Thirdly we are also coming up on the decision on how we are in the end going to be running Mosaic Place. The Field House is now under the direct control and auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department whereas Mosaic Place and its risky concerts is still a stand alone organization.
Could these facts of the true nature of the pledges - made in what many saw as booming economic times - end up throwing water on the entire issue in what is let us face it for many very trying economic times?
The City still needs to decide what type of management style Mosaic Place is going to have and in the end how much it is likely to cost us in tax dollars to subsidize the facility. If we go with the argument of having an outside management company run the facility is it going to cost us yet another $1.3 - $1.5 million for this to take place?
And where is that money going to come from?
What do we as a City forego to make it happen? Could it be we still continue what is viewed by many as an anemic cast iron replacement and road repair policy or do we increase taxes to make it all up? Or do we just divert the expected millions of dollars from the federal and provincial governments right now in their re-election cycles to cover the money spent on the DFFH management? If so how does this really get us ahead when it comes to cast iron? Is it just putting things off as the civic politicians also head into their own re-election?
But with that said there is something good which could be said about it all and that is despite the million dollar shortfall on the pledge side there was over $8 milllion collected in pledges for the project. I will let Mayor Fraser Tolmie make that argument on Monday evening.
In the end though it may not be a blow out on Monday evening but what the answers to Councillor Swanson’s questions do provide is a future potential end game on so many issues.