By Chad Ingram
"As much as this is transparent it’s almost not understandable without a great deal of study which makes it pretty opaque.”
That’s what Minden Hills Councillor Bob Carter had to say during a meeting last week regarding a complicated colour-coded spreadsheet detailing the “value-added items” for the township’s arena project.
If councillors themselves are having trouble following the finances of the nearly $13-million project then where does that leave the residents of Minden Hills?
As readers following the story of the arena project will be aware these “value-added items” are aspects of the project not included in its main budget and total hundreds of thousands of dollars. They include everything from paving the balance of the parking lot to a canopy at the rear of the building to murals to office and lobby furniture.
While a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation will pay for more than $130000 worth of items from the list at this point the value of the items yet to be approved totals more than $200000. If there is any contingency money remaining at the project’s conclusion – which seems very unlikely given that council approved an additional $250000 in contingency funding at the request of the builder in December – some of those funds could be used for value-added items. It’s also possible that money collected by the project’s fundraising group may go toward some of those items.
In December Carter also took issue with the fact that while council had approved a list of value-added items worth about $150000 in late June those items were prioritized in a different order in a December report from staff.
“We’re approving things now we’re taking this out” Carter said at the time with then-community services director Mark Coleman taking responsibility for any misunderstanding that had occurred. Coleman who was central to the arena project recently left the township for a position with another municipality the optics of which frankly are not great given that the arena project is not yet complete.
Coleman had been giving council monthly updates on the arena project that responsibility now falling to the township’s chief administrative officer-treasurer who attempted to clarify the situation regarding value-added items with the spreadsheet that was part of last week’s agenda.
Carter was not the only member of council having trouble digesting the information with Councillor Pam Sayne saying she’d found the value-added item process confusing including what was supposed to be or not supposed to be included in the project’s main budget which now sits at $12.75 million.
The project is large and complicated but it’s clear that the information regarding its “value-added items” needs to be presented in a more concise digestible way.
If members of Minden Hills council themselves are having trouble clearly understanding what’s happening it’s pretty difficult to expect their constituents to.