The heretofore never-ending saga that is the quest to refurbish MacLean Park could finally reach its climax this year after council voted 7-2 June 19 in favour of reallocating $32,600 left over from air conditioning upgrades at City Hall and the library to the already-budgeted $50,400 to contract the service of A&B Builders to construct and install a canopy for the stage.
The plan to redevelop MacLean Park began back in November 2009 when the federal government announced it would provide $230,000 towards the project, which had, at that time, a budget of about $690,000. Two years later, in September 2011, then-mayor Tim Johnston was the only one to vote in favour of a resolution to award the first tender while six councillors were opposed due to concerns about a tight timeline. A year later, council voted to add $48,500 to the $93,500 budget for work including construction of the stage and canopy and of a water fountain.
An awning for the stage was ordered in the spring of 2013 but the company supplying it went out of business before it was delivered. In 2015, the plans for the fountain were abandoned. The rationale behind the decision was that the other alternatives would have been to install an expensive filtration system to screen out debris from the water or to hook a fountain up to the municipal water supply, which is less environmentally friendly. A tender seeking a company to provide a canopy was issued in 2016 but the city did not receive any offers from suppliers.
Councillors Ron Matechuk and Duncan Wong cast the two votes opposed to providing A&B Builders the $83,000 for the design and construction of the canopy.
"Quite simply I think that all the money for this canopy can be better spent on streets in Thompson," said Matechuk.
"I think this is a white elephant project and also it's a money pit," said Wong, requesting a recorded vote. "We already spent over $700,000 on this particular space and we want to spend another 80-some thousand dollars? I don't think so, especially we have all these challenges ahead of us. If we do have the $80,000, I'd rather put it aside to reduce tax or put into the infrastructure, repair the potholes."
City manager Gary Ceppetelli clarified that about $450,000 had been spent to date on the redevelopment of the park since 2010.
"This canopy has been a thorn in our side for so long," said Coun. Penny Byer. "I understand and I appreciate Coun. Wong's suggestions of the money but it is a separate pot of money. That capital didn't come from us raising taxes, that came from other reserves and I'm just glad to see that this is finished and I'm glad to see that there was extra money left over from another project."
Wong replied that the money still comes from taxpayers, which promoted a subsequent response from Mayor Dennis Fenske.
"For the last five years there have been no property taxes used for capital projects," said Fenske. "They have been funded 100 per cent by either grants from the gas tax at the federal government level. The statement that he made is absolutely false. Capital dollars are raised and expended through reserves, through grants from the provincial government, from the federal government and other granting sources. This council and the previous council has been very adamant about not going to the
property taxpayer for capital projects and we've been able to do that for the last five years so this expenditure of funds is from capital reserves or projects that have been underspent, not the property tax bill that you receive in September."