By Jensen, Randy on March 31, 2020.
The Lethbridge and District Japanese Garden Society was given an opportunity to make its case to city council’s Community Issues Committee that $2.9 million in capital funding should be maintained in the current budget cycle for a new community facility at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, and for a subsequent temporary yearly fee-for-service increase to support the new facility from the garden’s current $333,000 per year to $432,000 should be approved.
Council has been debating the merits of cancelling the current CIP funding cycle for the new facility, and pushing it back into the next CIP capital funding cycle to save costs in an era of fiscal austerity.
Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting was the final opportunity for Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Society to explain why the City should go ahead with the spending prior to next week’s council decision on the matter.
Mayor Chris Spearman said he appreciated the information he received from garden society representatives, board director Colin Hirano, executive director Michelle Day and board vice-president Brad Hembroff.
“There were questions as to whether or not the (construction) grants were sustainable, and there has been no information provided yet that any of the grants would be cancelled,” Spearman said.
“It relies primarily on the (federal) Gas Tax grant for about $2.4 million and $265,000 from (City grants in) Pay As You Go. So the money seems available.”
Spearman said he believed council had all the information it needed to make a final decision on the project at the next week’s public meeting. He said there were other considerations at play beyond the short-term savings of postponing such a project which he and his fellow councillors would have to weigh carefully.
“I think it is going to be a very difficult decision for council on whether we continue to invest in the future, or whether we continue to invest now in the future. The City of Lethbridge has a very limited number of (popular) visitor attractions. Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is one.”
Spearman did acknowledge, with construction projects being allowed to go ahead in the province while other businesses remain closed due to coronavirus, that building such a community facility might provide some spark for the local construction and its spin-off industries.
“The province is struggling to define what are essential services, and we would say things like agriculture and construction are very important to local economies,” he said. “We need to make sure people stay employed. We have to sustain the economy where we can, but we also have to balance that with fiscal prudence. There are many people who have lost their jobs, or are about to lose their jobs. How do those people sustain themselves in this type of an economy? I think, at the City, we are just trying to be sensitive to all needs.”
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