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The city’s $10 million dilemma should be a no-brainer

It’s the $10 million question. What to do with the $10 million? Subtract or add?

The city, which delayed starting work on the $42 million replacement for the Four Seasons Pool downtown until it secured $10 million in federal and provincial funding, is now faced with a decision. Should it use the $10 million to reduce the amount the city needs to borrow to build the pool (residents, in a referendum, approved borrowing up to $35 million to build the pool), or should it add some bells and whistles to the pool.

“There will be more conversation about the $10 million in the fall,” said Mayor Lyn Hall at the sod turning for the pool last week. “We could put it towards the borrowing of $35 million or we could use it to do a few more upgrades in the pool. We’ll see where that conversation goes.”

If you ask most people on the street they would say it’s a no-brainer … borrow less money.

However, dollars-to-doughnuts there will be a pretty comprehensive report from staff, with the help of engineers (who usually get 10 per cent of everything), outlining ‘how important it is to the community’ to add $10 million to the new pool construction bringing the total cost to about $52 million. Remember when our politicians were telling us that $45-$50 million was way too expensive for a performing arts centre and that the arts community had to pony up? Ah, the good old days.

To put things in perspective, $10 million is almost enough money to build a small pool up in the Hart. Remember Vanderhoof has a brand new pool that cost about $12 million to build. No one here has yet adequately explained why Prince George’s pool has to be three, or four times, the cost of Vanderhoof’s new pool. The Prince George pool, of course, will be bigger, but it won’t be four times as big or have four times the amenities.

But, trimming a couple mill off the Four Seasons replacement and applying that to a new pool might just work except for the fact it just won’t happen.

The pressure from city staff will, undoubtedly, be how prestigious it will be to have a prestigious pool that will draw prestigious people to prestigious events. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, we’re living in a different world now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the city budget pretty hard and there will be some tough decisions this fall as council grapples with a pandemic budget for 2021. The borrowing costs for the pool won’t show up on the city’s bottom line for a couple of years so the hope is likely there that things will return to normal by the time the bill comes due on the borrowing.

See? Compelling reasons why we should add rather than subtract.

There really is only one compelling reason to use the $10 million to borrow less money … the taxpayers will have more money in their pocket at the end of the day.  

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