About 70 concerned citizens from both camps of the arena expansion project attended a meeting on Monday night in anticipation of Andrew Atlin and John Munro's presentation to Town Council Tuesday evening.
Atlin and Munro represent a group of citizens that want to stop, or at least delay, the construction of the Pyramid Recreation Centre because they consider the proposed funding structure to be "horrific and absolutely insane," according to Atlin, and "until an independent body confirms the Town can afford the expenditure and the community can have a public discussion and vote whether they want the project to proceed," as the petition created by Atlin and Munro says.
The majority of attendees were older, representative of the demographics which signed the petition that was printed in last week's Journal Argus, as well as available online and through individuals pounding the pavement. Atlin, spokesperson for the group, estimated that two-thirds of signatures came from those over the age of 50.
While all town councillors and the mayor were invited by Atlin via telephone, Atlin says that three didn't return his call, and that two "rudely declined." Coun. Bill Osborne and David Cunningham attended, but Osborne told the crowd that they weren't allowed to comment, on the advice of Town lawyers.
He said they would wait for Tuesday evening's council meeting to have their say. "You don't know how hard it is to sit and say nothing," he explained. "But we're here because we were invited...and we're also taxpayers."
Atlin opened the meeting by asking people to "keep comments as positive as possible...we'd like to have something to recommend as a positive step," leading to an informal vote on what measures should be taken.
Out of 64 votes, two voted to keep the facilities as they are, 57 people believed adding a second ice pad and improving the existing pad was ideal, and the remaining five believed the approved plan should continue as is.
The second part of the vote dealt with timelines. Out of 53 votes, two felt that the design should be reformatted as necessary and built as soon as possible; 18 felt the design should be reformatted but fundraising should be completed before the building begins and 33 believed the plans should be reformatted and fundraising efforts started, but that the possibility of provincial grants coming in spring 2007 (as suggested by Coun. Bill Osborne) should be fully explored before construction begins.
As for the fundraising to hire a lawyer to start the legal injunction process, Atlin says that half of the $20,000 needed has been raised as of press time.
"We're gonna get there," he later told the Journal Argus. "The question is if we're going to have to spend it." He says his group is prepared to go down the legal injunction route, but would prefer not to .
He also said they had collected over 900 signatures, and that "Tony (Winter) won with 1,400 votes in the last election." As of press time, there are 943 signatures on the petition. Atlin told the Journal that he wants the petition to be available as possible so everyone who wants to sign can -- "it's difficult for a judge to ignore 1,000 or 1,100 names when 2,200 people voted in the last municipal election," Atlin says.
"The project should appeal to the majority of the community," Atlin said at the meeting, "and the results reveal that it does not."
The majority of the meeting was dedicated to explaining the numbers. They believe the town is taking on too much debt and will have to compensate for it in the future by raising taxes or cutting other services (or both), such as infrastructure maintenance and acquisition of industrial lands.
They also believe that the operational costs of the Pyramid Centre will far outweigh revenues, especially considering that indoor pools generally operate at a loss.
Supporters of Atlin and Munro's efforts while mainly in agreement, questioned who some of the major sponsors were and exactly what was being done in the project; if the existing ice pad would be replaced, or whether or not Cadzow Pool would be closed.
Atlin and Munro estimated that the cost to cancel the project would be in the range of $100,000 to $200,000, but Rob Taylor of McLean Taylor Construction (one of the project's main sponsors) told the group that "I can assure you that this amount is ridiculously low -- I've had 38 years of experience dealing with this."
John Munro replied- "I think the point is that it will cost less to do this now."
The general feeling of the crowd was that the pool, and not the second ice pad, was the main point of contention, and that perhaps it could just be eliminated from the design with little overall impact.
Taylor again made his opinion known that, "I want to ensure you that every major sponsor is only into this project in its entirety...if you start to piecemeal this, make no mistake, every one of your major sponsors will pull out." He also suggested that the Town would not get as "amazingly cheap of a price" if they tried to piece the project back together.
Atlin responded that "there's one major sponsor you've neglected -- it's everyone here." Later, Atlin told the Journal that it's taxpayers who will bear the majority of the tax burden, and that a lack of public input has left people feeling disenfranchised.
"Taxpayers have a bigger stake than any of the major fundraisers," he said, while acknowledging the delicate balance that lobby groups play in municipal politics.
At the meeting, Atlin also acknowledged the tight timeline his group was working with. "We weren't expecting Council to go ahead with it immediately -- we were caught a little off-guard."
Atlin also told the Journal Argus that he was unhappy with only getting 15 minutes to present his case to Council, especially considering how complicated much of the material is. "Council will have given the impression that they have listened," he said, but, as one of the attendees at the meeting sarcastically pointed out, "people who have gotten a chance to 'speak their minds' are desperate enough to be here tonight."
Atlin did encourage the crowd to speak their mind to councillors in advance of Tuesday night's meeting, handing out lists of councillors' telephone numbers. He also encouraged concerned parties to attend the Council meeting. "If council sees you, they'll know you're concerned -- we're on at 7:30 p.m. and it will be a good show."
Any interesting news from the Town Council meeting will be covered in this week's Weekender, coming to your mailbox this Friday.
The Town has responded to the group's concerns through an ad on Page 26.