IndexTwin-pad faceoff!

Ratepayers vote on $2.8-million borrowing request

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 15/98) - Ratepayers today decide whether the city will borrow $2.8 million to build a twin-pad arena and make contributions toward a new youth centre and a gymnastics club.

The vote is limited to property owners. Each taxpayer gets one vote, except, as city clerk Tim Mercer explained, in the case of multiple properties held in different names.

"If a husband and wife co-own a property and the husband has exclusive ownership of another property he would get two votes," said Mercer.

Also, in the case of properties owned by corporations, a person with an interest in the corporation can surrender its vote to someone with an ownership interest in it.

Voting takes place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at city hall. Though few will probably be asked for it, it wouldn't hurt to have some identification handy when casting a vote in case any disputes arise.

Because of the controversy the arena project has generated, most involved with the issue believe participation in the plebiscite will be well above the usual 10 per cent of eligible voters.

Mercer reported at noon Tuesday that 13 proxy votes had been distributed. The results of the plebiscite should be available by about 8 p.m. today, Mercer said.

Hamer says build the arena, Grogono says no! Ratepayers will decide today.

Nothing selfish
in the arena project!

Guest comment
by Ter Hamer

The other day, a man I greatly respect dropped an unsolicited proxy vote off at my office. His said he would be away at the time of the vote, and were we to lose by a single vote, he didn't know how he could look at the face of any youngster without feeling guilty.

Now if ever there is a man who should not feel any guilt, then that man is Dr. George Gibson. A decade ago or so, when my eldest daughter began curling, she was the fifth girl in the club. We hadn't beaten the Yukon since Noah dried off, and the junior program was struggling. Absolutely no one, back then, would have believed that same struggling program would turn out a world all-star.

Today, there are dozens of kids involved, in no small way, thanks to George. He bought them all jackets, was there for their games and practices, and over a plate of chips would discuss the right and wrong of their games.

When George was awarded Canadian coach of the year, you have my assurances that I was the first to applaud, and I still love this man and what he has done for kids.

I suppose the greatest hurt for me in this entire arena-youth centre debate was the accusation by someone whom I never heard of that the proponents are "selfish."

It hurts very much. To think that all of our thousands of hours, decades of effort and thousands of dollars in support of the kids in the community is somehow summed up by a single disgusting word.

None of us have any children left to utilize these planned facilities. So if it is selfish and self-serving to help other people's kids, and not our own, then we plead guilty.

Please bear that in mind, Mr. and Mrs. Yellowknife. Our people have earned your support. Not merely asked for it. They have earned it. Most all the major events and facilities in this town have our fingerprints all over them.

OK. Take shots at me. Call me a refrigerator salesman, extreme left-winger, extreme right-winger, whatever ... been there. But lay off my friends. With me from the beginning of this process are three men whom I count among my closest friends and whom I challenge anyone to find any fault with.

Chris Bergman, executive director of Sport North, and president of the Wade Hamer Foundation. If you poll the kids in hockey and ask them who they believe to be the finest man in town, his is the winning name. What people haven't seen of Chris is the hundreds of hours at the mini-golf course, carpet gunk all over our hands, snow flying, mosquitos, biting, sometimes at the same time, trying to ensure the kids in this town have a place to go. To call him selfish when the kids are grown and gone, is a gross insult. But he knows what sports have accomplished for his kids, most notably Peter and I predict he will soon be in the NHL. He wants to help other kids realize their dreams.

I coached against Joe Walsh, Mr. Arctic Winter Games, 25 years ago. It was the same situation. The kids grow up to be fine, outstanding athletes and people, moulded by sports.

Still working hard for this city and knowing that a project like this will inject millions of necessary dollars into our sagging economy, will help employ our hurting tradespeople, and will ultimately be a huge draw to our city, paying for itself over and over again. Selfish? Nonsense.

When we were first trying to get the hockey school off its feet, speed skater Dave McCann stepped in and took all the surplus ice time, helping us survive. Now they have a huge and growing club and Dave Jr. will one day be mounting a podium at the Canadian level. He's still involved although his kids are also grown. Selfish? Nonsense.

I am extremely proud of my involvement with these people. That they put me on the podium to represent their concerns is a huge compliment. Because each of them has earned over and over again, the support and gratitude of this community. All they are asking for now is the tools to get the job done. And that takes a "Yes" vote from you.

My children, now adults, weren't even born when I first embarked on this enterprise. The incentive then was as the incentive now: Before you can tell kids to get off the streets you have to give them a place to go.

There have been successes since we began this crusade. We were successful in seeing the opening of the Yk Community Arena and other youth-oriented activities -- most notably indoor soccer -- were launched. But these were not then and are need and deserve more.

For me, your decision should be based on one simple fact. It's fairly basic of our peer cities in western Canada, those from half our size to double our size, Yellowknife has the absolute worst ice time situation. We are dead last and this is the only fact which counts in my mind. And if I cannot get this one simple fact out to the ratepayers, then I sincerely apologize.

Additionally, demographics will tell you that ours is a young city, meaning our needs are that much greater. We are asking only that our city give our kids the same opportunity that every other Canadian kid gets, no more than that but certainly no less. A "Yes" vote says that our kids are entitled to equal treatment. A "No" vote tells our kids to hit the streets.

I have been called a refrigerator salesman. Fine. What I am selling is dreams, because every kid who laces on his or her skates imagines themselves another Hayley Wickenheiser, another Elvis Stoiko, another Paul Coffey, another Catriona Lemay Doan. Thanks to my father, I had a dream and gave it a serious run. If I can give the kids in this town a dream than my life has been worthwhile.

My vote is "Yes." And I hope yours is too.

There are no winners if we lose. None.

Who wants a new arena
and do we need one?

Guest comment
by Matthew Grogono

The Yellowknife Property Owners Association is of the opinion that it is not appropriate to be increasing the city's debt in the current economic climate.

At a time when both federal and provincial governments are cutting back, eliminating deficits and trying to pay down debts, we feel it is irresponsible to even consider borrowing money except for urgent needs for basic infrastructure.

The proposed twin-pad arena is the immediate issue. Controversy has raged over whether the public was adequately consulted about what it should contain and how much it costs. Proponents for the facility point to the benefits they believe it will generate and compare us with other municipalities that have better facilities.

Many of the comments on both sides of the question are not substantiated or are obviously opinion. It might be useful to reflect on some of the facts related to the intent of city council to construct a new arena.

The original concept of the city was a multi-use community centre with two ice surfaces. The cost was in the order of $9 million.

At that time, a major concern in Yellowknife was youth at large at all hours in the city and street violence. The facility was often described as an answer to these problems.

Cost became an issue, and the project was scaled down. Now it seems every part of the facility has been sacrificed, leaving only the arena. The borrowing bylaw that ratepayers will be voting on April 15 is now $2.5 million for the arena and $290,000 in grants for a youth centre and gymnastics facility to be located elsewhere in the city.

It should be clear that the real issue here is the arena. According to a survey conducted by the city, 28 per cent of respondents identified additional ice time as a recreational requirement. The other 72 per cent of the respondents identified something else. We're not clear exactly what.

The city feels the arena is affordable. It will use all of the major facility reserve fund it has accumulated and receipts projected for 1998 and 1999. It will use all of the off-site levy reserve fund. It will use a federal-territorial infrastructure grant. It will use $1.25-million of block-funding moneys from 1998 and 1999. And it will borrow $2.79 million -- all for the arena.

Again, according to the city's own figures, it assumes no change to block funding over the next five years and no change to the water and sewer replacement program over that same period. It also assumes no change to our tax base over the same five years.

Considering the cost, it is reasonable to ask what about the 72 per cent of those surveyed who did not see ice time as a requirement are getting for their tax dollars. It is reasonable to ask if there's enough money left for the next few years for unforseen infrastructure needs. And it is reasonable to ask how great is the need for this area.

Proponents base the need on three arguments:

  • Yellowknife has the worst ice availability of any comparable community in western Canada.

  • The Gerry Murphy Arena is in poor condition and needs to be replaced.

  • A new arena will provide a positive alternative to youth who currently hang out on the streets.

While we do not doubt the sincerity of these arguments, we must point our that:

  • To date we have not been able to find out what communities in Western Canada are being compared to Yellowknife for available ice time or what criteria are being used to make the comparison.

  • The Gerry Murphy arena isn't the greatest, that's true. But is it because of deterioration or because the codes have changed since it was built? The last inspection report on Gerry Murphy emphasized that the deficiencies did not pose a danger to the public.

  • The new arena site is in Frame Lake South. Hockey takes time and money. The present community arena and Gerry Murphy are said to be 95 per cent booked for ice time. The city says if a new arena is built, Gerry Murphy will be closed.

If a positive alternative to the city street youth is the goal, wouldn't it be more effective to house a facility in the city centre, geared to the desires, needs and abilities of the young people there? Not everyone is a hockey player.

Finally, there's the matter of benefits. It has been said that a new arena would more than pay for itself by attracting events such as the Arctic Winter Games to Yellowknife, building community spirit and encouraging people to stay here to raise their families.

Now the Arctic Winter Games came to Yellowknife without the new arena. No doubt, after it's been hosted by other Northern places such as Whitehorse, Greenland, and so on, will likely come again to Yellowknife in its turn. The idea of major events and conventions coming a thousand miles north because of a new arena is difficult to understand.

As far as encouraging families to settle here is concerned, we believe that lower costs of living through reduced taxes and better infrastructure will go a lot further than a new arena.

To this end, the Yellowknife Property Owners Association has proposed to the city that it lower taxes and revisit its budget for 1998/99. This will definitely impact on the arena project. If the borrowing bylaw is voted down, it will hopefully be a clear message to city council that the voters agree lower costs and better infrastructure are more important than a new arena.

(Matthew Grogono is the president of the Yellowknife Property Owners Association.)

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