Former MHA says town could have had funding for rec facility

Derek Montague
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Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor Leo Abbass says that there are too many uncertain costs with building and operating a new recreational facility. He also says it will burden municipal taxpayers.

Former Lake Melville MHA John Hickey claims that the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Town Council let a golden opportunity slip away. At one point, during his second term as MHA, according to Hickey, Goose Bay was first on the province's list to get a new recreational facility, with the province paying 70 per cent of the cost.

"This is a very important file. We were first in line, and the council had an opportunity to jump in here and become involved in the planning of a new facility," says Hickey, who was MHA between 2003 and 2011.

"Now at the time, Mary's Town, St. Anthony, they weren't in the lead, we were in the lead. We were first in the queue."

While he was still MHA, according to Hickey, the province secured $300,000 to do a conceptual design for the new recreational complex, but the Town Council wasn't interested.

"That money was never spent, to the best of my knowledge," says Hickey. "Now we've got to start from scratch."

Mayor Leo Abbass recalls the money that was put up for a conceptual design. But, according to Abbass, the Town would have had to pay $100,000 as their share for the design project.

"We're not a big municipality, by any stretch of the imagination," says Abbass. "And for us to put up 100,000 dollars towards a concept design and then be at the whim of another level of government, that doesn't seem to be a wise expenditure of money and that's the way council looked at it."

There is no doubt that the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay needs a recreational facility to replace the Training Centre, which is now more than 50 years old. Hickey says that a new facility would include a six lane, Olympic size swimming pool, a therapeutic pool, an indoor walking track, a gymnasium, a fitness centre, and a combat room.

"The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is growing. We've got many young families that are going to be moving here. Not all kids want to play hockey or figure skate," says Hickey. "In order to have a well seasoned community here with all the bells and whistles you got to have a swimming pool complex."

But, so far, the Town and the Province can't agree on a fiscal arrangement.

"We never got nowhere with Council; Council wasn't prepared to participate. They wanted the province to pay 100 per cent," Hickey told The Labradorian in an interview last week. "Sorry, that's not how it works. You're getting a good deal if you can do 70-30 (cost split)."

"How can you go to the cabinet table to a government when municipalities are willing to pay their share. How can we expect to be different up here?"

Mayor Leo Abbass, and other Councilors have stated that 30 per cent of a multi-million dollar facility is too much for the Town to pay alone, without raising taxes. Abbass says it wouldn't be fair to residents of Happy Valley Goose Bay to take on a tax increase.

"We hear it from all sectors in this community; they're paying through the nose for everything now. So I haven't heard anybody say to me; raise my taxes," says Abbass.

The cost of building the facility is just one part of the financial equation. The more long-term and uncertain cost is maintaining and operating the facility once it's complete. The province operates the Training Centre in Goose Bay, so the Town Council doesn't like the idea of operating a building that would be replacing it.

"Right now the facility we have is owned and operated, and maintained, by the provincial government," says Abbass. "We have a problem with ... saying we should own, operate and maintain this (new) facility."

Bottom of the list

Hickey thinks that a major problem has to do with the Town's priorities. He figures that the Council doesn't place enough importance on building a new facility.

"As a minister at the time, I was very disappointed when, in 2011, the priorities came in from the Council when I was leaving and the swimming pool complex was number eight on their list; the last thing on the list," says Hickey.

According to Hickey, renovations to the Town hall, including replacing the windows, trumped the recreational facility on the priority list.

Abbass says that, just because the recreational facility was eighth on the list, it doesn't mean that it's unimportant. According to the mayor, when it comes to making the list, the Council has to think of what's realistic and within its budget.

"Everything that's on that priority list can be justified. We've got issues with the town hall. If we have to build a new Town Hall, that's millions and millions of dollars there," says Abbass.

"We try to look at what the need is and then work within our own budget. We do the things that will impact the majority of people in our community."

Deputy Mayor Stan Oliver has said that he, respectfully, disagrees with some of Leo Abbass' viewpoints on the recreational facility issue. Oliver firmly believes that the town needs to play a leadership role in moving the project forward with other stakeholders from the region.

"I think we need to show leadership as a Town Council and take this issue by the horns, and I'm prepared to do that," says Oliver. "I think that this has not moved ahead because we haven't played a leadership role."

Oliver, who has had previous experience with fundraising, says there are creative ways of getting the 30 percent needed, without burdening the taxpayer. He points to the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre which, according to Oliver, hardly cost the town anything.

"I believe there are ways and means of finding that 30 percent without going back to the tax payers. That could be federal government funding, it could be private funding," says Oliver.

Even though he is no longer involved in politics, Hickey says he wants to get the project on track, so the recreational facility can be built sooner, rather than later.

"The time has come for us to get this facility, and what I'm doing right now is . . . I'm retired, I'm not getting back into provincial politics or anything like that . . . but I feel that this is a project that must get back on the drawing board," says Hickey.

"This is my retirement project, I'm going to push this and I'm going to pound whoever I got to pound until we get this back on track."

Abbass says that the Town will be willing to play a role in the construction of a new recreational facility, if the deal makes sense to the council. He maintains, however, that the entire region will use the facility, so stakeholders throughout the area will have to help out as well. This may include the towns of Northwest River and Sheshatshiu, and the different aboriginal governments, among others.

"Get the stakeholders, get all the stakeholders at the table," says Abbass. "If you want to have a regional facility, then get representation from the region, from all the areas that will be utilizing that facility."


Organizations: Goose Bay Town Council, Training Centre, The Labradorian Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre

Geographic location: Goose Bay, Happy Valley, Lake Melville MHA John Hickey St. Anthony

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