Sunday, January 27, 2013

Look Before You Leap, then Look Again

You may have heard last week that a trip is being planned for city council and some administration to check out the new Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.  This trip was suggested by the board of the Raiders, who would like to see a new arena to replace the Art Hauser Centre.

I have a few thoughts about this whole idea.  Starting to gather information at early stages, which everyone agrees we're at, is certainly a good idea.  And checking with a community of similar size which has recently gone through the process is also a good idea.  But there are far more things that we need to consider before we decide that this should be part of a ten year plan for the city - ten years is not a very long time, and we have more urgent, basic needs that have been neglected for too long.

I know that there's a certain excitement and energy to special projects that just doesn't happen with the regular, boring, infrastructure maintenance stuff.  The city has an enviable history of residents getting together to fund the construction of such things as the original Comuniplex, the Kinsmen water slides, the Rawlinson Centre, and the soccer centre.  And it's less than ten years ago that the Bring Back the Magic campaign put $5 million into upgrades that resulted in the Comuniplex being refurbished and renamed the Art Hauser Centre.  These facilities all provide benefits to the city, its residents, and the surrounding area.  They also each have added significantly to the city budget, and the costs to the city to keep them operating increase every year.

I think that before we even consider adding yet another city-owned facility to the more than 100 that we already are responsible for, we need to review the current state of all our facilities.  We need to know their operating costs, the level of usage, and the revenues.  We need to know their projected life span, and what sort of maintenance is required on an ongoing basis.  And we need to decide if we can afford all the facilities that we currently own.  Some difficult decisions may need to be made, because we have to realize that, even though the city may have carried the costs in the past, it's no longer practical or fair for some facilities to be subsidized to the extent that they have been.

We also need to develop some standard principles around these facilities.  I think that the costs for each facility should include all operating costs, including water, which currently is included for some facilities, but not others.  I think that all facilities should have to provide a financial report and a budget before their annual funding is approved - again, in the past, this has been required for some facilities but not others.  I think that when facilities reach the end of their lifespan, when costs to keep them repaired start to be unreasonable, we need to decide at that point whether we need to maintain the facility, or if the need can be covered in some other way.  For example, the Girl Guide Hall needed a new roof.  When the repairs began, black mold was revealed, making it a far costlier project.  This is the point where we need to ask ourselves why we are maintaining a building for a single organization, when we have several community halls that could probably accommodate their needs.  And I'm not meaning to pick on the Girl Guides, whose building costs us far less than some other facilities, and who pay for their own water use, but no group should be considered off-limits or sacred.

This is difficult, I know.  We all have our favourite causes that we support.  But we have to make decisions that are objective, and not based on the affinities and connections of members of council.  Too often we have made decisions that are more emotional than practical, and those decisions have cost the city as a whole.  It comes down to balance.  I'm not saying that all facilities need to be self-sufficient.  I am saying that we need to treat all facilities the same, and look for cost-effective solutions, so that we can afford both the every day necessities of paved and plowed streets and safe drinking water, while being able to enjoy going to a hockey game, a concert, or a walk along the Rotary Trail.

And the place to start, as I've suggested before, is with a total facilities review.  Only when we know where we are can we start to figure out what we need to do to get where we want to be.

"Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them." - Ogden Nash

1 comment:

Michel Perron said...

i agree with you that ALL city own building should be cost effective. We do have alot of halls that organization could get into like the girl scout as you said. Do not be shy to cut where it not cost effective. Tax are already high and with the type of weather we are having the snow budget will take a major hit on city budget.