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Council hesitates on indoor sports facility funding

Millions set aside, but some councillors say city can’t afford project.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay city council has allocated around $12 million for a proposed new multi-use indoor sports facility – but not without some second thoughts.

Mayor Bill Mauro on Monday brought a motion to move millions from various sources into the indoor turf facility reserve fund. That included $6.9 million from federal gas tax funds, around $3 million in municipal accommodation tax dollars from future years, and over $3 million from reserve funds.

Coun. Rebecca Johnson touched off a sometimes passionate discussion on the city’s financial priorities when she opposed the proposal.

“I’m not saying a turf facility isn’t something we would like and need,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, do we need it right now, when we can’t even really afford it?”

The at-large councillor said she’s worried the city’s budget will be even tougher to balance than usual next year, thanks to anticipated lower tax revenue with Bombardier layoffs.

Mauro acknowledged the city’s financial challenges, but argued the Chapples Park project is a worthwhile investment. He also noted the city had run an operating surplus last year. He was supported by councillors Foulds, Ruberto, and Ch’ng, who said the facility could help keep young professionals in the city.

Others were more hesitant, but a reassurance that allocating the money would not commit council to spending it seemed to help some make up their minds.

Council ultimately approved most of the mayor’s motion, but rejected some points. They voted down a proposal to allocate $900,000 from the city’s stabilization reserve fund, and another to ask the Community Economic Development Commission to contribute its own share of MAT funding to the project. This leaves around $17.6 million now allocated to the indoor turf facility reserve fund.

The city is hoping other levels of government will kick much of the remainder of the facility, expected to cost nearly $30 million.