To build an Indoor Turf Facility or not to build an indoor turf facility, that is the question. A question that the citizens of Thunder Bay were never asked nor were they given any indication the mayor that they were voting for in 2018 was going to take $30 million from their tax coffers to pay for it, without provincial or federal funding in place.
Thousands of pleas are going unheard again from a COVID-19 fatigued community asking that the indoor turf facility be “put on hold” as we traverse the economic ramifications of the pandemic. Hundreds of people are blowing up social media and their councillors' email inboxes with these pleas.
They are being met with various justifications from mayor and council to move forward with this large infrastructure expenditure, gambling that COVID-19 will not reappear in Thunder Bay this fall and continue to damage the economic stability of the city.
There are no committed sources of funding from provincial or federal programs at this time. $12.2 million has already been taken from reserve funds, another $3.3 million will be asked to be allocated from the general reserve fund to the indoor turf facility according to Councillor Mark Bentz, leaving only $13.5 million in taxpayers' hard-earned reserve coffers.
With a projected $10 million deficit by the end of the year due to the pandemic, borrowing or taking money from this funding mechanism is not responsible governance and taxpayers may be looking at a substantial increase of their tax levy in the 2021 budget.
Along with the financial concerns, there are concerns about the transparency of the process. The Chamber of Commerce has shared its concerns with city council, according to a Tbnewswatch article on July 14, 2020. I quote: “ In a letter to city council made public Tuesday, the chamber says the city's request for feedback from residents about the design concept for the project falls short of what's needed to ensure transparency and fiscal accountability.”
I agree that there has not been adequate public consultation due to the restrictions of COVID-19, and the call for comments is happening when the general public is on summer vacation and not paying attention.
Soccer Northwest, a branch of the Ontario Soccer Association, should ask for some help from the city to rebuild their club, but should this club and its supporters expect a $30 million dollar state of the art facility be funded and built during a massive economic downturn in Thunder Bay?
Taking care of the youth and children should be a priority for us, but it should not be at the expense of the financial and mental well-being of a community in the middle of a life-and-death pandemic.
Where is the compassionate leadership in city council and in our community sport associations? Where is common sense leadership in city council or in our community sport associations? No one should be taking advantage of people enjoying a reprieve from being quarantined for months, to have to return home early to try to stop politicians from emptying their hard-earned reserve funds that were set aside for a rainy day.
It is pouring outside, city council. A deferral to build the indoor turf facility seems in order at this time. The city's financial well-being, and the trust given to you as leaders depend on it.