A Saskatoon city councillor wants the city to pull back funding for a new rink at the University of Saskatchewan.
Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill said he wants a recent agreement to provide $3 million over six years to help build Merlis Belsher Place scrapped for now, then brought back at regular budget deliberations in the fall.He introduced a motion to that effect at this week’s city council meeting.
“This motion was a direct result of feedback from colleagues, as well as what the citizens have been telling us as a result of the unexpected and surprising provincial budget,” Hill said.
The province’s 2017-18 budget saw the elimination of a grant program worth about $11 million to the City of Saskatoon.
That’s left the city scrambling to address the shortfall with only about a month before tax notices have to go out.
“I’ve heard from a number of citizens that if it came down to allocating resources, $3 million to a hockey rink or to the deficit that’s been imposed on us by the provincial government, they would sooner see that money go to backfill that hole created by the provincial budget,” Hill said.
Hill said he’s still fine with an initial commitment of $1 million that the city made in exchange for a guarantee of 1500 hours of ice time for minor hockey.
But as to the additional $3 million, he said he couldn’t recall a time in his decade on council where so much money was doled out to a third-party project outside the regular budget process.
Hill said having the request for $3 million come back would allow it to be considered alongside administration’s annual report on Saskatoon’s recreation facilities, and weighed against projects benefiting other groups.
While the $3 million contribution is slated to be spread over six years, Hill said that wasn’t a justification for not considering the money as one way to take a chunk out of the shortfall left by the province.
“That $11.5 million deficit, or hole, that we’ve just been given to fill is every single year,” Hill said.
Mayor sticks by vote on arena money
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark was one of six votes in favour of the arena money back in February.
Despite the challenges presented by the provincial budget, Clark told 650 CKOM’s Brent Loucks he stood by his vote and would not be supporting Hill’s motion.
“I made that decision based on it being a sound financial decision.”
The new Merlis Belsher Place will have two sheets of ice, two basketball courts and seating for 3600 people.
Clark said the city’s contribution amounts to paying 10 cents on the dollar, with no operating costs to pay over the entire life of the facility.
“It means we don’t have to build one ourself. We’re meeting a need that’s been identified for 25 years in this city and its 10 cent dollars for us,” Clark said.
Hill’s motion will come before Saskatoon city council at its next meeting in April.