Central debates fate of multi-plex earmarked funds

CENTRAL MANITOULIN – With the cancellation of a planned multi-use complex in Mindemoya due to a failure to secure provincial funding, the Municipality of Central Manitoulin was left pondering what to do with the $503,000 in funds the town had allocated for their share of the project costs.

A recommendation from the September 8 property committee moved by Mayor Richard Stephens and Councillor Rose Diebolt called for council to re-allocate “funds for the unsuccessful application for a new recreation centre to other projects within the municipality.”

Councillor Angela Johnston said she was okay with the motion in principle, but did not like the wording. She pointed out that the funds in question were not specifically tied to the recreation centre.

Mayor Stephens suggested that although the funding had been set aside for the recreation centre as a high priority at the time, the funds should now go back into the general fund “to be allocated as we see fit.”

Councillor Dale Scott said he understood where Councillor Johnston was coming from, pointing out that the originally received funding the town had allocated to the rec centre project actually pre-dated that project. “The decision to apply for the (rec centre) funding didn’t occur until afterwards,” he said. “The money was there for upgrading the arena.”

Mayor Stephens noted that the budget process will be underway in the next couple of months.

Councillor Johnston said that she did not want the council to forget the community’s recreational needs “just because we didn’t get the funding; I don’t like the feeling that because we didn’t get funding ‘so that’s done’.”

“I hope it’s not forgotten,” said Mayor Stephens.

Councillor Rose Diebolt asked whether Councillor Johnston’s concerns arose from the inclusion of the words “other projects.”

Councillor Steve Shaffer sought to refresh council’s memory by noting that the funds in question were not tied to the envisioned recreation centre and were discussed in 2019. “Council was in discussions at the time to put it into infrastructure,” he said. “We decided to put it into reserve until we had a plan. Then, lo and behold, the opportunity for a grant appeared—the first time in years—so we hired a consultant to put in an application to the government. At no time when we put it into reserves did we say it was strictly for the recreation centre. I was told at the time we could move money around.”

“I believe infrastructure is high priority in this community,” continued Councillor Shaffer, pointing out that the municipality has buildings that need to be modernized, citing handicapped access as an example. “I do not like the idea of putting it in the general coffers when we have major projects. I do not support taking money out of reserves.”

“It’s all in the same account,” countered Mayor Stephens, pointing out that the budget line items are just words on paper at council’s discretion.

But Councillor Derek Stephens said he agreed with Councillor Shaffer, citing a concern that if the funds were moved into the general coffers they could end up being used for something else.

“We need to go for some kind of recreation,” he said, noting that handicapped access to the arena facilities and new dressing rooms have been identified. “If you put it into general coffers, sometimes it just goes to lower taxes. I think $500,000 isn’t enough, but it is a start.”

Councillor Stephens suggested setting the funds into a capital infrastructure fund.

Councillor Johnston agreed with Councillors Stephens and Shaffer.