Maple Ridge city council is poised to unleash its goals to borrow $110 million to fund the city’s share of capital spending plans that could include a new aquatic centre, additional park facilities, at least one more arena and other unspecified items.
The impact of council’s plans on taxpayers can only be estimated, but it will certainly be significant and will likely lead to one or more plebiscites.
Looking back on the legal mess generated by the methods employed by the city in its last major capital program, the one certainty in all of this is that Maple Ridge city council will be doubly careful about how they go about spending such significant amounts of money.
If, by any chance, city council’s memory fails them on this point, Coun. Gordy Robson will be there to remind them.
It was Robson who, several years ago, legally challenged the city’s development of the ACT and city hall tower, which he claimed had exceeded the city’s legal spending limits and took place without voter approval.
Ultimately, the courts sided with Robson.
The city was subsequently forced to dip into its capital reserves.
The nice thing about plebiscites is that the projects and specific costs must be spelled out in detail and would, thereby, limit the amount the city can spend without going back to the voters for subsequent approvals or dipping once again into the city’s capital reserves.
Almost lost in all of the discussion surrounding the Leisure Centre is the escalating cost of almost $6 million to repair a facility which originally cost just over $3 million to construct.
Of course, there have been upgrades and some expansion since the place opened 35 years ago, but the increase in repair costs is dramatic.
The decision to leave the Leisure Centre in its current state for a few more years is probably a wise move and will provide city council plenty of time to make a final decision on whether to repair the place or build a completely new facility in another central location.
Robson’s suggestion to tear down the centre and replace it with a convention centre and hotel is an idea whose time has probably come.
Maple Ridge is now claiming grown up status as a city, but it lacks an appropriate hotel and has totally inadequate facilities to host even minor conventions.
Of course, one of the biggest stumbling blocks when considering the costs of expansion of city facilities is the downstream increase in operating costs, which will have a greater and longer lasting impact on taxes than the cost to construct the facilities.
Another bug in the ointment of ongoing operating costs of these new facilities is the impending demise of the joint recreation facilities and operation agreement with Pitt Meadows.
Under that agreement, the capital costs of any new facility is the responsibility of each of the cities, but the operating costs are shared on a 20/80 basis.
There is no practical way Maple Ridge will be able to prevent Pitt Meadows residents from using any of the new or existing facilities, which are all heavily subsidized. This is going to result in Maple Ridge taxpayers unnecessarily subsidizing the recreational activities of the residents of Pitt Meadows.
The inability of the two city councils to cobble together an ongoing agreement to benefit both jurisdictions is a certain indication of a high degree of political immaturity on both sides.
Most of the facilities that would be included in any major capital spending plan by either Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows are sorely needed.
It behooves our civic leaders to adopt a more mature approach in the future and do away with their petty squabbling and get on with the job of providing us with good government.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.